Men’s tennis disappoints despite third place finish at ITA championships

The No. 1 Case Western Reserve University men’s tennis team kicked off the ITA DIII National Indoor Championship with a 4-3 victory over the University of Chicago. The matches were played under Division I scoring rules: Even with a sweep in the doubles matches, teams needed to secure wins in at least three singles matches.

All three of the Spartans’ doubles pairs dominated their opponents from Illinois to give CWRU a 1-0 lead. With a loss at second singles, the Spartans suddenly found themselves tied at 1-1. Victories secured by third-year Casey Hishinuma at fourth singles and graduate student Diego Maza at fifth singles propelled them to a 3-1 lead. However, with both fourth-year Vishwa Aduru and third-year Ansh Shah losing at first and third singles, second-year Anmay Devaraj needed to clinch a victory to beat Chicago.

Though he was only moved into the singles lineup several days prior to the tournament, Devaraj was focused on winning and did not let the pressure phase him. He won sixth singles 6-3, 6-3 to seal the first round victory.

“It was a great feeling knowing that your team needed you and delivering on that,” said Devaraj.

The Spartans rode with momentum into their semifinal matchup with ninth-seeded Washington University. With third-year Ajay Mahenthiran back into the lineup at third singles, CWRU hoped for a win over the Bears for a ticket to the finals for the third consecutive year.

The Spartans found themselves in a 0-1 deficit after losing two of their three doubles matches. Both the first and third doubles partners, fourth-year Sahil Dayal/Devaraj and graduate student Michael Sutanto/Shah, lost 6-3 to WashU. Maza evened the score with a win at sixth singles, but WashU regained the lead with two significant wins at first and fifth singles against Aduru and Hishinuma, respectively.

Holding a 3-1 lead, the Bears needed one more singles win to move on to the finals. When they needed it the most, Sutanto and Mahenthiran beat their opponents, despite Mahenthiran missing the first match.

“It was definitely tough going to the match a little cold. But I had been playing at a really high level in the fall,” commented Mahenthiran about his confidence going into the semifinals.

With the match tied at 3-3, it was now in the hands of Shah at fourth singles. The match came down to a three-set thriller with Shah winning the second set, but losing in the third against Colin Scruggs of WashU.

Veteran Mahenthiran said, “It was tough because we had been so focused on beating Chicago, it felt like a lot of us went into that WashU match a little cold and not on our best foot. Something to learn from for sure moving forward.”

The Spartans now looked to finish third place with a win over fifth-seeded Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges, and they did just that with a dominant 4-0 victory. The Spartans finished 2-1 in doubles play while the singles matches finished with victories from Mahenthiran, Hishinuma and Maza. The remaining matches were stopped due to decision.

Though the Spartans fell short of expectations and thus will likely lose their status as the No. 1 ranked team in DIII, they now have their eyes set on a string of 11 upcoming matches in seven days in California.

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