Men’s tennis falls in season opener to Brandeis

Sophomore Ethan Bershtein approaches a drop shot during Tufts' 6–3 loss to Middlebury on Apr. 8, 2018. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

The No. 22 Tufts Jumbos fell short in their season-opening match to the No. 10 Brandeis Judges 7–2 on Saturday.

After working hard in the off-season since October, the Jumbo’s were disappointed by their performance in singles, but first-year Isaac Gorelik found a silver lining in the team’s strong play in doubles.

“Brandeis has some of the best doubles teams in the country,” Gorelik said. “The matches were really close. We knew Brandeis was really good, so it was an encouraging thing to see. We played way better in doubles than anyone expected, and it showed us the hard work we put in paid off.”

The Jumbos drew first blood with a victory in No. 3 doubles, as junior Ben Biswas and sophomore Niko Hereford broke past the duo of first-year Colt Tegtmeier and senior Tyler Ng in a tight tiebreaker, 8–7 (2).

Brandeis fired back with a close win of their own at No. 2 doubles, as first-year Paris Pentousis and sophomore Owen Bartok displayed a valiant effort but ultimately fell to first-years Adam Tzeng and Jeffrey Chen, 8–6.

“We thought the match was closer than ever,” Pentousis said. “At first, we got broken at 1–1, then we were down a break against Tzeng, who’s a lefty. He had a very good slice [serve] out wide which was hard to return. When we were down 5–4, we adjusted and were ready to put our returns in play, and we managed to get the break back for 5–5.”

Tufts continued to dig deep at No. 1 doubles, but sophomore Boris Sorkin and junior Nathan Niemiec were defeated in another close match, 8–6, by junior David Aizenberg and sophomore Anupreeth Coramutla.

After posting a 2–1 lead at the conclusion of doubles play, Brandeis continued to tally points up on the scoreboard by taking five of the six singles matches, with four of them in straight sets.

“Heading into the match we thought we could really take it to them in singles,” Gorelik said. “But it turned out the other way around. I feel like we came short in singles since we [had] put pressure on ourselves to beat them there.”

Although Brandeis went on to clinch the match after victories in No. 4, No. 3 and No. 2 singles with a 5–4 advantage over Tufts, Sorkin’s victory at No. 1 singles and Bartok’s three-set battle at No. 6 singles were highlights for the Jumbos.

Bartok, who walked on to the team as a first-year last season, battled back to level the score after dropping the first set 6–3, but eventually lost in a high-pressure, extended tiebreaker to sophomore Rajan Vohra, 6–3, 3–6, 14–12.

At No. 1 singles, Tufts’ Sorkin topped Brandeis’ Aizenberg in straight sets (6–3, 6–4). This past fall, Sorkin made Tufts tennis history by clinching the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Cup Div. III singles national championship to cap off an incredible individual season. The sophomore sensation also seized the Middlebury Invitational A-Flight singles title on Sept. 16, 2018, and ITA New England singles crown on Sept. 30, 2018.

Upon reflecting on the loss, senior co-captain Ross Kamin expressed the team’s need for more experience and play, especially given the Jumbo’s young line up this season. Ten of the 16 players on this year’s roster are either first-years or sophomores.

“It’s always tough first match when we’ve just been playing against ourselves over the whole offseason,” Kamin said. “But having lot of younger guys in the lineup, I think everyone needs more match play and to develop more match toughness. It’s just [about] getting more matches under our belt.”

Next week from March 16 to March 23, the team will have plenty of opportunities to gain the experience they need over their spring break trip to California where they will face off against top out of conference teams, including No. 18 Sewanee and No. 11 Pomona-Pitzer.

After having somewhat disappointing results at the conclusion of last year and missing the NESCAC tournament for two consecutive years, the Jumbos are especially hungry to prove themselves this season and reach the playoffs. The team hopes to compete with other top teams in the NESCAC, which is widely considered the most competitive conference in Div. III. Currently, 5 of the 11 teams in the conference are ranked in the top 10 nationally.

Among one of the many first-years looking forward to their first spring break with the team, Jack Moldenhauer expressed his optimism heading into the series of matches over the trip.

“We’re confident we can be one of the best teams in the country,” Moldenhauer said. “We’re a young team, we’re only going to get better, and everyone’s excited to compete well over in California.”

The Jumbos look forward to bouncing back on the court on March 16 over their spring break trip, where they will first face off against Caltech in sunny Pasadena, Calif.