Men’s tennis fends off WashU 5-1 to clinch indoor national championship


Courtesy of CWRU Athletics

After phenomenal performances by several of the men’s tennis players, the team was named ITA Indoor National Champions.

Puneet Bansal, Sports Editor

The Case Western Reserve University men’s tennis team came back from St. Peter, Minnesota with some hardware. After three days and three matches at the Swanson Tennis Center against the best teams in the country, the Spartans were crowned ITA Indoor National Champions for the second year in a row. 

“[It’s] very surreal,” said fourth-year James Hopper in an interview. “The group of guys we have this year is a different group to the guys that won this tournament last year, so being able to solidify the hard work we have put in as a whole team this year and see it pay off is a very special feeling.”

Hopper was flawless during the tournament, going 3-0 in both the first singles and first doubles. He was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player on Sunday following the championship match against Washington University in St. Louis. He also earned UAA Athlete of the Week and Spartan Athlete of the Week Honors.

The No. 2 Spartans defeated No. 10 Emory University, No. 5 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and No. 7 WashU 5-1, 6-3 and 5-1, respectively. Though the scores may not show it, it was not an easy road.

“After winning it last year, we knew there was a target on our backs, and every team would want nothing more than to beat the defending champions,” said third-year Vishwa Aduru. “Being able to do it for a second year in a row says a lot about this team and how strong we are mentally.”

Coming into the tournament, CWRU expected the intensity to be high and concentrated only on what they could control. 

“We knew it would be a war,” said Aduru. “At the airport before the tournament, we talked about how our sights were set on beating Emory and nothing else. Just taking it match by match, point by point, is what we kept emphasizing… That was critical in helping us come out on top again this year.

“We were hoping to go all the way in this tournament,” added third-year Sahil Dayal, “but we were really emphasizing taking each match one at a time. We did not want to get ahead of ourselves.

CWRU opened their tournament play against Emory in the quarterfinals on Feb. 24 with the duo of Hopper and Aduru notching a win in first doubles 8-1. Fourth-years Diego Maza and Michael Sutanto defeated the Eagles’ third doubles duo 8-5, but Emory staved off a doubles sweep after defeating Dayal and fourth-year Chris Provenzano 8-6 in second doubles.

Hopper took first singles 6-0, 6-2, second-year Casey Hishinuma won sixth singles 6-0, 6-1 and second-year Ajay Mahenthiran clinched the match 6-3, 6-2 in fifth singles.

The second day of the tournament proved to be the most challenging as the Spartans faced CMS in the semifinals. Similar to the match against Emory, Hopper and Aduru won first doubles 8-5. However, CWRU gave up two points in second and third doubles. The team was staring down a deficit for the first time in weeks. 

Hopper quickly put a stop to the bleeding with a 6-1, 6-0 win in first singles. Second-year Ansh Shah gave the Spartans their first lead of the match after a 6-3, 6-2 victory in fourth singles. Hishinuma fell in sixth singles but Mahenthiran’s 6-4, 6-2 win in fifth singles gave CWRU a 4-3 lead, just one shy of clinching a championship match berth.

The match came down to the second singles match with Aduru and the third singles with Sutanto. Aduru dropped the first set 6-2 but won the second 7-5 while Sutanto won the first set 6-2 but lost the second one 7-6. With both matches going to the third set, Aduru ultimately pulled off the comeback and the match-clinching win after defeating his opponent 6-3 in the final set. Sutanto added the cherry on top with a 7-6 win in his third set.

“After doubles… we knew that we were going to have to fight hard if we wanted to win the match,” reflected Hopper. “Once we were 4-3 up in the match, things got very tight in the last two matches… Seeing both of those matches come out on top in third sets really showed how resilient we are as a team and was definitely one of the most memorable moments of the weekend for me.”

On Sunday morning, the Spartans met the WashU Bears on the court for the championship. The stakes and the pressure were at their highest, but CWRU stuck to their gameplan.

“We [trusted] our training and knew that if we executed at a high enough level, we had confidence that we as a team would put ourselves in a position to win,” said Hopper.

Hopper and Aduru started off strong with an 8-4 win in first singles. The Bears struck back with a 8-5 win in second doubles over Provenzano and Dayal. Maza and Sutanto fought to the end and ran away with an 8-6 win in third doubles to give the Spartans the 2-1 lead heading into singles.

Hopper and Shah clinched their singles matches in two sets, putting CWRU just one point away from their second straight national championship. Hishinuma’s sixth singles proved to be the tournament clincher, as he won 7-5, 6-3.

“When [Hishinuma] clinched the title… it was an unreal feeling knowing it was over and the team had done it,” said Dayal.

“Running over to all my teammates and holding up the trophy, I could not have been happier in that moment,” added Aduru.

The Spartans are on a ten-match winning streak, improving to 10-2 on the season. They’ve also gone 4-0 against nationally ranked NCAA DIII teams. However, the season is not over.

“While we do feel great about this accomplishment, there is so much more tennis left to be played,” said Dayal about the team’s goals for the rest of spring. “We have a very tough schedule this spring break, as well as the UAA tournament and NCAA tournament. Our sights are currently set on performing our best in those events.”

CWRU will resume competition on March 11 when they travel to Florida for 11 matches in five days. The Spartans will then have eight more matches to fine tune their skills and strategies before challenging for the UAA Championship from April 21-23. 

The 2023 NCAA DIII championship tournament is set for May 13-21. CWRU will find out about their selection in early May for the opportunity to avenge last year’s loss in the championship round.