Rookies shine in last fall invitational tournament

Junior Rob Jacobson plays the net against Conn. College on April 10, 2014. Caroline Geiling/ The Tufts Daily

After starting off the season with impressive wins from veterans and rookies alike, the Tufts men’s tennis team continued to show signs of something special at this past weekend’s Wallach Invitational Tournament. While regular team leaders Rob Jacobson and Nik Telkedzhiev were unable to win their respective tournament openers, rookies including Ben Battle and Danny Coran made deep runs in their respective brackets.

The Wallach Invitational Tournament is an annual event held at Bates, which hosts nine teams from the northeast region. Four to five players from each team play in one of the four lettered brackets in singles and one of the two in doubles.

In the A singles bracket, Tufts was represented by junior veteran Jacobson and freshman Zain Ali. Playing against the second seed, Carl Reid from Colby, Ali wasn’t able to get a definitive break in the match and lost 6-4, 6-3. Jacobson, who held on in the opening set, met a similar fate in a 7-5, 6-1 defeat.

Senior Brian Tan and sophomore Battle were the two players competing in the B singles bracket. Tan lost a well-fought first set before losing a second-set tiebreaker to Kyle Wolfe from Bowdoin. Battle did just what his name so aptly suggests, producing some of the tournament’s most consistent and aggressive tennis.

Battle, who is now getting much more playing time than he did during his debut season, played an extra match before he was granted entry into the regular B singles bracket matches. But the additional challenge proved to be painless, as he swept aside Cameron Hillier from Colby 6-1, 6-4.

Like Ali, Battle was set to play against the second seed in his bracket, Palmer Cambell from top-tier school Middlebury. After losing the first set handily to Cambell, he leveled the match by taking the second 6-4. In the deciding set, the Jumbo stayed ahead for a 2-6, 6-4, 10-6 win.

Battle picked up another win in the quarterfinals against Gil Roddy of Bowdoin in one of the most sea-saw matches of the tournament, 3-6, 6-2, 15-13. His winning was stopped in the semifinals, however, as he lost to Clifford Traft of Trinity 7-5, 6-2. In the end, Battle finished as one of the top four players in his 16-person bracket.

The C singles bracket saw freshman Danny Coran prevail in his first two matches, where he defeated Ned Mandell of Trinity 6-2, 6-1, and beat Ben Rosen of Bates 6-4, 6-1. 

In the semifinals, the rookie showed steely nerves and a refreshing eagerness to win. After dropping the first set to Middlebury’s Alan Jackson 2-6, Coran roared back and took the second 6-3. In the third set decider, Coran played the brand of tennis that had gotten him so far in the tournament and booked his place in the finals. There the Jumbo lost a close encounter with Lucas Pickering of Skidmore, 6-2, 6-4. His top-two finish as a freshman is another sign of the team’s potential to do even better.

“My semifinal match against a top-seeded Middlebury player was really a breakthrough match for me,” Coran said. “I got killed in the first set but came out firing in the second. I told myself that I was going to fight until the end and maintain a high level of focus.”

In doubles, Battle once again showed his potential. As the only Tufts team to make it past the first round, Battle and junior Nick Cary soldiered to the championship of the B doubles bracket. Though it was the first time the duo was paired together, the unlikely couple proved from the very first set that it was an intelligent matching.

“Going into the weekend Ben and I hadn’t played that much together, but we thought we had a few strategies that could work if we executed them well, and we got off to a good start in the first round,” Cary said. “We played a strong [Middlebury] team in the quarters, but I think we did a good job of sticking to what we were doing well and not trying to be too creative with shot selections or formations.”

The Jumbos’ first match, held at 9 a.m., was a simple win against a pair from defending Div. III champions Amherst. Following that win the team went on to win 32 games in the bracket, only dropping 15.

“The semifinal was more of a grind as we both struggled to gain momentum and execute basic shots, but we were able to turn it on for a small stretch of the match and close it out,” Cary said. “Battle and I kinda knew we had to play better in the final, and even after a slow start we knew chances would come if we played our basic game and just [tried] to make them beat us, instead of giving them free points. I think the reason we won is because we forced them to hit great shots in order to win points, which is tough to do on a consistent basis in doubles.”

Coran was the single most successful Jumbo at Bates. His unprecedented run to the finals of the C singles bracket foreshadows what many believe will be a breakout year for Tufts men’s tennis. The team’s overall success against schools like Middlebury and Amherst show a change of the tides in favor of Tufts; as long as the Jumbos continue consistent play with selective aggression, they will fare well in the spring, when they will be joined by junior Jay Glickman, who is currently studying abroad.

“Moving into the spring season, I feel confident and ready,” Coran said. “I’m excited for the team atmosphere surrounding dual matches, which differs from the fall invites. Guys like Rob and Brian have really been great role models for me. They set an example by practicing hard and being leaders on and off the court.”