Ali takes Middlebury’s de Quant to third set tie-breaker

The Boston Invitational has been a much-anticipated event all season, touted as an opportunity for the men’s tennis team to flex their muscles against Colby, Boston University (BU) and Middlebury. More schools — and thus more competitors — raised the stakes for the Jumbos as they competed in their last tournament of the fall season.

According to coach Karl Gregor, Middlebury was the team to beat on Sunday morning. With two national championships in the past 10 years under their belt, the Panthers have consistently pushed the Jumbos to improve their game.

“Middlebury knows how to win,” Gregor said. “They expect to win.”

Middlebury’s competitive mindset was seemingly reflected in their 8-2 singles wins over Tufts on Sunday. Gregor said that decisive points may have swayed the outcome.

“Two of our matches against Middlebury ended with a tie-breaker for the third set, so only two or three points determine the winner and the loser,” he said.

Senior tri-captain Robert Jacobson agreed, saying that many matches on Sunday were close but ultimately culminated in losses.

One standout match — a grueling two-and-a-half-hour fight between Tufts sophomore Zain Ali and Middlebury sophomore William de Quant — concluded with a 10-7 loss in the third set tie-breaker.

“[Ali] had a lead in the first two sets, and at that point it looked like it was going to end quickly,” senior Roy Peleg said. “[His opponent] then made crucial adjustments to his strategy, and it became a toss-up. Due to the tiebreak, it could have easily gone the other way.”

The matchups against Middlebury hinged on how well the players could control crucial points and adjust to their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses.

“It all comes down to match experience,” Gregor said. “A player that has played a lot [during the season] can adjust more readily.”

The competition against BU and Colby fared better for Tufts; drawn-out matches ultimately culminated in wins rather than close loses. Ali found himself in a similar situation against BU junior Lucas Bombonatti as he had against de Quant, but managed to pull out a win due to his composure in the third-set tie-breaker.

“[Ali] played well in the third-set breaker,” Bombonatti said. “I was able to just stick in there and get it back to nine all, but he played the last few crucial points really well.”

Jacobson agreed that Tufts’ effort to improve was reflected in the 7-1 score against BU.

“We were pretty dominant against Colby and BU, and the results showed,” Jacobson said. “Every time we step on the court, our mindset is to get better, and this weekend was no different.”

The doubles teams also impressed with a 3-1 showing against Middlebury.

“The wins in doubles were definitely a positive this weekend,” Gregor said. “We had a pretty poor doubles showing two weeks ago in the Bates Invitational. That was a big takeaway, and we spent the weeks leading up to the Boston Invitational getting our doubles cleaned up. Based on the results of this weekend, I think we succeeded.”

The emphasis on improvement in both doubles and singles will continue into the off-season.

“We are looking forward to the off-season in order to dial in on our strengths and weaknesses and get the right action plan in place,” Jacobson said. “The off-season is very captain-led, so it will be a time for us to come together even more as a team in anticipation for the spring.”

The spring season may present more opportunities for younger players as well.

“The freshmen are great players, and though they have had opportunities to play in the fall, the older guys have been the driving force of the team for four seasons now, so it’s harder for [first-years] to make an impact because we have all had a little more experience,” Jacobson said. “The spring season will be an opportunity for them to keep working hard and gain momentum while we continue to grow as a team. We really do consider ourselves a family. We play for each other and fight for each other.”

This family mentality allows the Jumbos to look back on their fall season with satisfaction.

“We really delivered and put in a lot of effort this season,” Peleg said. “We supported one another this weekend and I definitely consider our play in the Invitational as a net positive for the team as a whole.”

Gregor agreed, emphasizing his hope of improving for the spring season.

“We play Middlebury in mid-April, and they are the bar to measure ourselves against in many ways,” he said. “Right now, our lineup is stronger in the fourth, fifth and sixth positions and a little weaker at the first, second and third. Based on this weekend, this can change by the spring as certain players peak at different times.”

If the Boston Invitational is any indication, the Jumbos will return in March with rejuvenated forward momentum.