The No. 15 Tufts men’s tennis team bounced back from its 7–2 loss to then-No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on March 24, defeating Vassar, 9–0, at home on Saturday morning and Babson, 7–2, in the afternoon. After winning both ends of the doubleheader, the Jumbos lost a close contest to the Middlebury Panthers at the Gantcher Center on Sunday.
Despite the loss, senior Zain Ali thought the team displayed a valiant effort.
“I was really proud of the guys,” Ali said. “I thought our performance and attitude was great.”
No. 3 Middlebury (11–3) registered the opening point of the match, with junior Noah Farrell and senior co-captain William de Quant defeating Tufts first-year Carl-Herman Grant and sophomore Nathan Niemiec 8–1 in No. 2 doubles. The Panthers doubled down on their advantage with a victory in first doubles, as senior co-captain Kyle Schlanger and junior Ludomir Cuba felled Ali and senior Rohan Gupte, 8–6. However, the Jumbos responded with a close win of their own at No. 3 doubles, as sophomore Ethan Bershtein and first-year Boris Sorkin bested senior co-captain Timo van der Geest and junior Peter Martin, 8–6.
Schlanger, ranked No. 15 in Div. III entering the spring season, wrested the momentum back for Middlebury with a 6–1, 6–2 win in fourth singles. Still, the match was more competitive than the score suggested. Grant attempted to attack Schlanger’s one-handed backhand and finish points off quickly at the net. Schlanger was too solid from the baseline, though, hitting heavy groundstrokes and mixing up the rallies with his slice backhand.
In a clash of talented players at No. 1 singles, Middlebury tallied another victory, as Cuba — the defending NCAA singles champion — squeezed past Gupte 6–4, 7–5. Gupte covered the court from corner to corner, but Cuba was able to break through his opponent’s dogged defense.
Despite their 4–1 deficit, the Jumbos roared back with impressive wins in second and third singles. In the former, Ali struck his groundstrokes off both wings fearlessly, beating Farrell 6–3, 6–4. Farrell claimed a national title in singles as a first-year in October 2015, but the Wilton, Conn. native took last spring off before returning to the court this year. While Ali had previously lost to Farrell twice in his collegiate career, he was up for the challenge.
“When I heard I was playing Noah at No. 2, I got really excited,” Ali said. “I didn’t want to go out losing to him another time. I knew his game … [and] I knew if I could get my foot on the gas pedal and get the quick break that I could win.”
Sorkin pulled off a similar upset, defeating de Quant (who ranked 13th in Div. III last fall) 6–4, 6–3 in the third spot. Sorkin sprinted to a 5–1 lead in the first set, putting pressure on de Quant with his unyielding consistency and clever drop shots. De Quant later broke Sorkin’s serve to close to 5–4, yet Sorkin silenced his opponent’s momentum by holding serve to capture the first set. As the underdog, Sorkin felt little pressure and was able to play his best tennis.
“I came [into] the match knowing he was better than me,” Sorkin said. “I wasn’t nervous. Even when I started losing the first set, I was relaxed. My teammates cheering definitely helped, too.”
Tufts tightened the score to 4–3 with victories from Ali and Sorkin, and the match came down to fifth and sixth singles.
At No. 5 singles, Niemiec fell just short in a thrilling matchup with first-year Nate Eazor (6–3, 5–7, 6–4) after storming back to seize the second set. Niemiec and Eazor pummeled groundstrokes from the baseline in long, physical rallies throughout the match. Despite Niemiec’s attempts to break down Eazor’s backhand and stretch him out wide, Eazor prevailed with the match-clinching victory.
After taking the first set, sophomore Ben Biswas eventually lost to first-year Andre Xiao 3–6, 6–1, 6–2 in sixth singles. Biswas was initially able to force errors out of his Middlebury foe with topspin-loaded groundstrokes, but Xiao began ripping his flat groundstrokes to take the match.
The Jumbos were disappointed to lose after pushing their NESCAC rivals to the limit with three-setters at fifth and sixth singles. However, Ali stressed many positives from the match.
“Middlebury looked nervous,” he said. “We definitely made a statement that we are not only one of the best teams in the NESCAC but also in the country.”
In the second match of their Saturday doubleheader, the Jumbos bested the Babson Beavers, 7–2, in Wellesley, Mass. Tufts swept all three of the doubles matches, with sophomore Jason Scanlon and first-year Niko Hereford downing Babson senior Dylan Levy and sophomore Dan Levitan, 9–7, in the third spot.
Scanlon noted how the tricky weather conditions influenced play.
“It was a big adjustment going from indoors to outdoors [in the same day],” he said. “It was windy and on the colder side, which made things more challenging, but we really stepped it up.”
The Jumbos took four of the six singles matches to win the match handily. Bershtein provided the highlight of the day at No. 5 singles with a three-set win over Levy that included two tiebreakers: 7–5, 6–7 (3–7), 11–9.
Just hours earlier, Tufts swept Vassar in a home match at the Gantcher Center. The Jumbos were dominant, losing only three games across all three doubles matches. Sophomore Zach Schaff and junior Ross Kamin dished out a bagel by beating Vassar first-year Nicolas Demaria and junior Robin Drummond 8–0 in the third spot.
The Jumbos were particularly ruthless in fourth through sixth singles. First-year Owen Bartok blitzed through sophomore Dom Demeterfi 6–0, 6–2, while senior co-captain Justin Brogan broke down sophomore Zamir Birnbach, 6–1, 6–1. Kamin rounded out the Jumbos’ dominance with a 6–1, 6–2 win over junior Nick Zuczek.
The Jumbos will return to the court this weekend with matches against three NESCAC opponents. Tufts will take on No. 11 Wesleyan (2–5) on Saturday in Middletown, Conn. The team will play another doubleheader the following day, with a morning matchup against Hamilton (2–8) followed by a crucial tilt against No. 5 Williams (9–2) in the afternoon.