By MAX PRINZ
ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
The Fordham men’s tennis team returned to the friendly confines of the Hawthorn Rooney courts on Thursday, March 28 for a match with the Bonnies of St. Bonaventure. Gray skies and somewhat chilly weather could not stop the Rams, who pulled out a close 4-3 victory for a triumphant return to the Bronx.
The weather was not ideal for the Rams’ homecoming to outdoor courts and was clearly a factor for the entire afternoon. The match opened with doubles play, and the Rams appeared somewhat sluggish. The usual abundance of energy was missing from the team as it struggled through the three doubles matches.
“It’s definitely different conditions coming from indoors to outdoors,” said head coach Dimitar Bzrov. “You’ve got the wind factor, and it’s still a little bit chilly outside. You have to make an adjustment in your strategy and your approach. The matches are definitely a little bit slower.”
The team failed to make that adjustment in doubles play. The three doubles teams — sophomores Srikar Alla and J.J. Tauil at first doubles; junior Matty Najfeld and sophomore Max Peara at the No. 2 spot; and sophomores Peder Gram and Michael Puntillo in the third slot — all lost their matches by a score of 8-5.
“The intensity and mental approach was not there in doubles,” Bzrov said. “They came out a little relaxed and little too casual in doubles. I took them back in the locker room and regrouped everybody. I made sure they were motivated and picked up the intensity.”
The Rams responded to coach Bzrov in singles play. The team came out fired up and began to take command of the match. Alla took on Elliot Fanshel and frustrated him with superior play all match long, winning 6-2, 6-4. Najfeld also came up big, winning his match 6-2, 6-3. The No. 1 and No. 2 players did their jobs, putting the Rams up 2-1.
“I look at doubles play as a morale boost. Sometimes when you lose the doubles, you get down on yourself,” said Bzrov. “The challenge is to regroup and come back strong. I think we did just that today.”
Though the top players in the lineup put the Rams in front, they needed help from the players further down. Tauil played well, but was unable to get the Rams a win, losing his match 6-3, 7-5. Tauil’s loss made the score 2-2, meaning the match’s outcome would be decided by the bottom of the lineup’s matches, all of which went to a decisive third set.
Gram, Peara and sophomore Jan Krouham all had their matches go to a third and final set. The fourth through sixth players were out on the court the longest, trying to give the Rams a victory. Peara went down first, losing 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. Now down 3-2, it was up to Gram and Krouham.
Gram was able to keep hope alive, defeating Trevor Haskell 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. His match was hotly contested, with all members of the team cheering after every Gram winner.
“I tell the guys, it doesn’t matter if you play first singles or sixth singles, they all count as one point. I try to treat the guys equally and help everybody as much as I can,” said Bzrov.
The match score now tied at three, everyone turned to Krouham’s match with Gabriel Cardenas. Krouham clearly had the edge. The home court advantage and teammate support would give him the victory. When a Cardenas unforced error gave Krouham a hard fought 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 victory, his teammates all ran out to surround and congratulate him.
“Jan and Peder’s matches were really close, and I was there motivating them along with their teammates for the whole match,” said Bzrov. “All together it was great group effort that helped us pull it out.”
The Rams’ win over the Bonnies improves their record to 6-7 on the year. The team will be in action again on April 2 against Marist.