May 18, 2002
COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The dual match season for the 14th-ranked and 14th-seeded University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team came to an end Saturday afternoon with a 4-1 loss to the third seed, third-ranked Illinois, in the round of 16 of the NCAA Championship. The Fighting Illini won the doubles point and three of the four completed singles matches to improve to 26-4 and advance to the national quarterfinals for the third time in four years, matching the best tournament result in school history. Notre Dame’s sole point came from 15th-ranked senior Javier Taborga (La Paz, Bolivia), who defeated #12 Amer Delic at No. 1 singles for the third time this season. Notre Dame and Illinois split two regular-season meetings.
Notre Dame, making its first trip to the round of 16 since 1994, finished with a 23-7 mark — the most victories for an Irish squad since ’94. The season is not quite over for two Irish seniors, as Taborga will participate in the NCAA Singles Championship, starting Wednesday in College Station, and he and Casey Smith (Leawood, Kan.) will compete in the NCAA Doubles Championship, which starts Thursday.
“They (Illinois) came out of the blocks awfully well in doubles and were just too good for us there,” said Irish head coach Bob Bayliss after his team’s defeat. “And when you give them that head of steam, it is tough to stop the momentum. I was very proud of some of our guys who lost first sets but came back to win the second. We were down 3-1 with all the remaining matches in third sets and that is all you can ask for.”
The doubles point has been important to Illinois’ success this season, with the Illini losing only one of the 24 matches in which they captured the doubles point. Mike Kosta and Nathan Zeder won the first six games of the match and saved two break points in the final game for an 8-2 triumph at No. 3 over Notre Dame sophomore Luis Haddock-Morales (Caguas, Puerto Rico) and freshman Brent D’Amico (Centennial, Colo.). The Irish team had won each of their four previous matches together. Kosta and Zeder improved to 15-3 at No. 3 this year.
After the Irish saved a match point in the No. 1 doubles match, Philip Stolt and Brian Wilson completed an 8-4 victory at No. 2 to clinch the doubles point. The Illini pair extended its winning streak to 10 matches and improved to 20-6 this season, including 12-3 at No. 2.
Michael Calkins and Amer Delic, ranked fourth in the nation, were leading the fifth-ranked squad of Smith and Taborga 7-2 at No. 1 when the match was abandoned. Calkins and Delic registered breaks of serve on all four Notre Dame service games and recovered from having their own serves broken in each of their first two service games. This was the fifth time the two teams met this season with the pairs splitting each of the previous four meetings. Calkins and Delic will also participate in the NCAA Doubles Championship.
Brian Wilson, an NCAA singles qualifier with his No. 40 ranking, finished first in singles with a 7-6 (7-4), 6-1 victory at No. 2 over Smith. The Irish senior served for the first set at 5-4, but was broken by Wilson, who went on to force, and win, a tiebreaker. Smith held serve in the first game of the second set before Wilson ran off six straight games to give Illinois a 2-0 lead. The win was Wilson’s seventh in a row and the second in three tries against Smith this season. The Illinois sophomore moved to 30-8, including 16-3 at No. 2.
Nathan Zeder put Illinois a point away from victory with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Irish senior Andrew Laflin (Tampa, Fla.) at No. 6. Zeder was broken in the first game of the match before he won six straight games to take the first set. Laflin saved a pair of match points, serving at 4-5 in the second set, but Zeder then held at love to claim victory. The loss was the first for Laflin in 17 matches this season at No. 6 and it broke a 10-match winning streak for the Irish senior. Zeder moved to 22-4 overall this season, including 19-3 in dual matches.
Taborga then put the Irish within striking distance with a 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 win over Delic at No. 1. Taborga also defeated Delic, who will play in next week’s NCAA Singles Championship, in both regular-season dual matches this season. The Irish senior improved to 19-5 at No. 1 and 6-1 in his career in singles matches against Illinois. The win was his 16th over a player in the current national rankings and his ninth over competitors currently listed in the nation’s top 40. Taborga is now 28-11 in singles this season and 60-23 in combined play (singles & doubles), marking just the fifth time under Bayliss that an Irish player has won 60 matches in a season and the first since Michael Sprouse did it in 1995.
“I thought Javier played really well at No. 1,” said Bayliss. “Delic is really a great player.”
Michael Calkins clinched the win for the Illini with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 victory at No. 5 — his 14th consecutive singles victory. Prior to Saturday, Calkins had not lost a set since he last played Scott on March 7, when he also dropped the middle frame in a three-set win. The Illinois sophomore was responsible for two of Scott’s three dual-match losses this season and he also gave Laflin half of his two defeats.
The two remaining matches were in third sets when they were abandoned. Philip Stolt, ranked 67th, was leading Aaron Talarico (Laguna Beach, Calif.) 5-7, 6-2, 2-0, while Mike Kosta led Haddock-Morales 6-3, 4-6, 3-1. All five postseason matches (two in the BIG EAST tournament and three in the NCAAs) for Haddock-Morales were abandoned, while Talarico also had five of his final seven matches of the year abandoned.
Illinois improved to 11-1 on neutral courts this season and has defeated the Irish seven times in the last eight meetings. The Illini will head into Sunday’s quarterfinal match with 11th-seeded USC on a 14-match winning streak.
“Give everyone (for Illinois) credit,” said Bayliss. “They handled the wind better than we did. They were aggressive the whole match and they deserved to win. I think you can see why they are ranked in the top three in the country.”
Despite their Saturday losses, Scott and Laflin completed extraordinary singles seasons that left a mark on the Notre Dame recordbook. Laflin was 19-2 in dual matches and 24-2 overall. His .923 winning percentage is the highest by any Irish player in Bayliss’ 15 years at Notre Dame, while his .905 mark in dual matches ranks second during that time. Laflin finished his career with a 77-28 (.733) singles mark, placing him 10th in career singles winning percentage under Bayliss. He won 38 of his last 42 collegiate matches and finished his career on a 22-match winning streak at home. Laflin compiled a 31-5 career mark at No. 6 singles.
Scott was 32-5 overall, including 24-3 in dual matches. His 24 dual-match victories match the third-highest total during the Bayliss era and his 32 overall wins are tied for 13th during that span. His .865 winning percentage is the fifth-best in Bayliss’ tenure. Scott will enter his junior season with a 49-10 (.831) singles record, which is the highest career winning percentage of any competitor in the Bayliss era.
#3 Illinois 4, #14 Notre Dame 1
No. 1: #15 Javier Taborga (ND) d. #12 Amer Delic (I) 7-6 (7-5), 6-4
No. 2: #40 Brian Wilson (I) d. #102 Casey Smith (ND) 7-6 (7-4), 6-1
No. 3: #67 Philip Stolt (I) vs. Aaron Talarico (ND) 5-7, 6-2, 2-0, abandoned
No. 4: Mike Kosta (I) vs. Luis Haddock-Morales (ND) 6-3, 4-6, 3-1, abandoned
No. 5: #121 Michael Calkins (I) d. #120 Matthew Scott (ND) 6-3, 4-6, 6-2
No. 6: Nathan Zeder (I) d. Andrew Laflin (ND) 6-1, 6-4
No. 1: #4 Calkins/Delic (I) vs. #5 Smith/Taborga (ND) 7-2, abandoned
No. 2: Stolt/Wilson (I) d. Raju/Talarico (ND) 8-4
No. 3: Kosta/Zeder (I) d. D’Amico/Haddock-Morales (ND) 8-2