Feb. 28, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Buckeye sophomore Dennis Mertens of Belgium finally put away Irish sophomore Eric Langenkamp (Scarsdale, N.Y./Scarsdale H.S.) at No. 6 singles in the final match on-court after more than three hours, as 12th-ranked Ohio State (9-2) used a trio of three-set triumphs to rally for a 4-3 victory over #43 Notre Dame (7-4) in men’s tennis action Saturday afternoon in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. The Irish, playing without their top singles player for the second time in as many matches, posted a pair of upsets of top-30 doubles teams to take a 1-0 lead and also held 2-1 and 3-2 advantages. Notre Dame concludes a stretch of five consecutive matches against higher-ranked teams on Sunday, welcoming BIG EAST rival #33 Miami for a 1 p.m. (EST) match.
After just more than three hours of play, the match was tied at 3-3, with only the No. 6 match remaining. It was more than an hour later that Mertens finally finished a 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2 triumph to hand Ohio State its second consecutive victory over the Irish, after Notre Dame had won the previous 14 meetings. Langenkamp, who did not play Thursday vs. Illinois due to a hamstring injury, held a 6-5 advantage in the second set when the last of the other matches was completed. He was able to force and win a tiebreaker in that frame to set up one set that would decide the outcome of the team match.
Mertens struggled in the opening game of the final set, fighting through multiple deuces and saving a number of break points en route to holding serve in a game that lasted 16 minutes. He did not give Langenkamp another chance, as the Belgian dropped just a total of two points in his ensuing three service games. Two points after the Irish sophomore tracked down a drop volley and converted an incredible crosscourt passing shot to save a break point in the fourth game, Langenkamp saw his lob sail long to give Mertens a service break, which would prove to be the difference. The Buckeye, who improved to 17-6 this season and 8-3 in dual matches, playing mostly at No. 5, added another break in the final game of the match.
The loss was a rare one for Langenkamp, who is 16-4 this season and 7-2 in dual matches. It also was his first defeat in three career three-set contests.
Notre Dame held a 2-1 lead with the remaining four singles matches destined for third sets. Ross Wilson finished first among those contests, evening the team score with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Notre Dame freshman Ryan Keckley (South Bend, Ind./St. Joseph’s H.S.) at No. 5.
The Irish edged out to a 3-2 advantage when Stephen Bass (Bronxville, N.Y./Iona Preparatory School) completed a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over fellow freshman Chris Klingemann at No. 3. Bass is14-5 this season, including 8-3 in dual matches. He is 3-2 in playing up a spot in the lineup, at No. 3. Bass is undefeated in seven three-set contests in 2003-04.
Buckeye senior Jeremy Wurtzman, the No. 2 singles player in college tennis, put the fate of the match in the hands of the No. 6 players by holding off Irish senior tri-captain Matthew Scott (Oakton, Va./International School of Paris). Wurtzman improved to 24-2 this season.
The doubles portion of the match was full of surprises, as Ohio State dropped the initial point of the contest for just the second time in 11 matches this spring, while Notre Dame won the doubles point for just the third time in 10 tries (doubles was not played in the St. John’s match). The Irish, who had just one win over a ranked doubles team all season — and none this spring — won the final two matches remaining against ranked Buckeye teams.
Scott and fellow senior tri-captain Luis Haddock (Caguas, P.R./Notre Dame H.S.) got a late service break in topping Wilson and Scott Green, the nation’s No. 19 team, at No. 2 to put the fate of the doubles point in the hands of the No. 1 teams. Keckley and junior tri-captain Brent D’Amico (Castle Rock, Colo./St. Stephen’s Episcopal School [TX]) then followed suit with a late service break for an 8-6 triumph over the 26th-ranked pair of Wurtzman and freshman Joey Atas at No. 1. Haddock and Scott are 6-1 this season and 11-3 in their careers as a team, while Wurtzman and Atas, who won the consolation title in last fall’s ITA All-American Championships, dropped to 11-4 this season.
Prior to Saturday, players on the current Irish roster had combined for just three career upsets of ranked teams, with none coming against a pair listed higher than 42nd. The only previous upset of a ranked team this season was an 8-2 victory by Haddock and Keckley against Green and Wilson, then ranked 42nd, in the semifinals of last falls’ ITA Midwest Championships.
Mertens and Brenton Contini topped senior Paul Hidaka (Tokyo, Japan/St. Mary’s International School) and freshman Barry King (Dublin, Ireland/Gonzaga College) 8-2 at No. 3 in the first match off the court.
D’Amico registered his second ranked win of the day by giving the Irish a 2-1 lead with a 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 victory over 50th-ranked Atas at No. 2. The victory was the first for D’Amico over a ranked foe this season, and Atas is the highest-ranked player ever to fall victim to the Irish junior. Atas is 13-5 this season, with two of his defeats coming against Notre Dame, as Scott registered a match-tiebreaker triumph against him in last fall’s Midwest Championships.
Freshman Devin Mullings of the Bahamas was the first singles winner off the court, with a 6-2, 7-5 decision against King at No. 4.
For the singles portion of the match, the Irish were without Haddock, who is still battling a groin injury suffered in last Saturday’s upset win over #37 Northwestern. He did not play singles or doubles on Thursday at Illinois and was questionable for any action Saturday.
All four Notre Dame losses this season have come against teams ranked among the nation’s top 12, as #9 Texas A&M, #8 Duke, and #1 Illinois were the only other squads to down the Irish.
Notre Dame is 2-6 over the last two seasons in matches that are tied 3-3.
#12 Ohio State 4, #43 Notre Dame 3
No. 1: #2 Jeremy Wurtzman (OSU) d. Matthew Scott (ND) 6-4, 5-7, 6-2
No. 2: Brent D’Amico (ND) d. #50 Joey Atas (OSU) 7-6 (7-5), 6-2
No. 3: Stephen Bass (ND) d. Chris Klingemann (OSU) 6-1, 3-6, 6-3
No. 4: Devin Mullings (OSU) d. Barry King (ND) 6-2, 7-5
No. 5: Ross Wilson (OSU) d. Ryan Keckley (ND) 2-6, 6-4, 6-4
No. 6: *Dennis Mertens (OSU) d. Eric Langenkamp (ND) 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2
Order of Finish: 4, 2, 5, 3, 1, 6*
No. 1: *D’Amico/Keckley (ND) d. #26 Atas/Wurtzman (OSU) 8-6
No. 2: Haddock/Scott (ND) d. #19 Scott Green/Wilson (OSU) 9-7
No. 3: Brenton Contini/Mertens (OSU) d. King/Paul Hidaka (ND) 8-2
Order of Finish: 3, 2, 1*