No. 4 Irish rebound with win against Sycamores
By JOE LINDSLEY
Fueled by an embarrassing and anger-inspiring loss to No. 46 Michigan last week, the Notre Dame men's tennis team soundly defeated Indiana State 5-2 on Saturday.
The No. 4 Irish, after losing the doubles point, were able to change the tide of the match as they defeated the No. 29 Sycamores by posting victories in five of the six singles matches.
"I'm pleased with the way we fought," said senior Casey Smith, who defeated 56th ranked Vedran Vidovic, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4. "We fought a lot better than the way we did against Michigan. Technically we still have a lot of stuff we have to work on, but as far as the effort everyone gave, I was really pleased."
Throughout the season, Notre Dame often has trouble gaining the momentum and confidence needed to win its singles matches after it loses the doubles point. On Saturday, though, the Irish did not let the loss of the doubles point disturb them.
"We expected them to be a tough team to beat at their home courts," senior James Malhame said. "We stepped up to the level we need to in order to dominate the match."
In addition to Smith's victory, which was his sixth win over a ranked opponent this season, the Irish earned points from seniors Javier Taborga, Aaron Talarico and Andrew Laflin and sophomore Luis Haddock-Morales. Laflin, after defeating Dalibor Mihaljlovic in straight sets, 6-4, 6-1, improved to 17-1 in dual matches for the season.
While the singles was strong on Saturday, the Irish continued to have trouble with doubles play.
"Doubles is a big concern for us right now," Smith said. "At the beginning of the year that was one of our strengths. Right now, moving to outdoors, we've decided to change up some of the combinations."
After the loss at Michigan last week, Irish coach Bob Bayliss changed the bottom of the doubles lineup for the contest at Indiana State in an effort to find the best possible combinations of players.
While the fifth-ranked duo of Taborga and Smith won, the new pairs lost to their Sycamore opponents, both by scores of 8-5. Malhame and Luis Haddock-Morales fell to Henry Choi and Vidovic, while freshman Brent D'Amico and senior Ashok Raju lost to Mihaljlovic and Lovre Brajkovic.
According to D'Amico, the doubles results were somewhat surprising but not cause for alarm.
"I don't think we expected them to push us as much in doubles," he said. "I don't think we're really concerned. We're just trying to find out what's going to work out. It was good to mix things up. Obviously things hadn't been working."
Besides doubles, the Irish had also been concerned about making the transition from indoor to outdoor play, but at Indiana State — their first outdoor dual match of the season, Notre Dame was able to show that it can have prowess both inside and out.
"I liked going outdoors," Smith said. "As a whole our team should be better outdoors. Indoors you get in the mindset where you want to end the points very quickly, and we've been so used to that."
The Irish changed that mindset, though, as they took on the Sycamores in Terre Haute, Ind.
"We realized that we need to sustain the points longer and take a more workman like attitude," Smith said. "By doing that, we played a lot better. This really is a good sign for the rest of the season."
With three more regular-season matches left, the Irish feel confident about their prospects and progress, even as they will continue to juggle their doubles lineup.
"We went through a little stretch were anything that could go wrong did," Smith said. "Some of it was just bad luck. We finally started getting a few breaks and played with a lot more confidence. Hopefully we have turned the corner and are ready to play our best tennis at the end of the year."
The Irish hope to complete that turn away from poor play as they play host to No. 43 Southern Methodist at the Courtney Tennis Center on Sunday.
All Sports Stories for Wednesday, April 3, 2002