March 6, 2002
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The sixth-ranked University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team, after ten days without a match, will travel to Champaign, Ill. on Thursday to face fifth-ranked Illinois at 4:30 p.m. The Illini climbed to No. 1 in the nation last week for the first time in the program’s history before a 5-2 road loss to Duke on Sunday.
PACIFIC COAST DOUBLES RECAP: Four Irish doubles teams traveled to La Jolla, Calif. last weekend to take part in the Pacific Coast Doubles tournament, an open tournament from which match results do not count for ranking purposes. Nonetheless, the Irish participated in some high-level outdoor doubles action in preparation for the warmer weather.
Senior Aaron Talarico (Laguna Beach, Calif.) and freshman Brent D’Amico (Centennial, Colo.) had a strong showing, knocking off the fifth-seeded team in the second round before falling in three sets to the nation’s No. 1 pair, Scott Lipsky and David Martin of Stanford, in the round of 16. Seniors James Malhame (Douglaston, N.Y.) and Ashok Raju (Morgantown, W. Va.), the eighth-seeded squad, won in the first round before being forced to retire in second-round action. Junior Brian Farrell (Lilburn, Ga.) and sophomore Luis Haddock-Morales (Caguas, Puerto Rico) lost in the first round, but won a pair of matches in consolation play before defaulting. Sophomore Ben Hatten (Potomac, Md.) and freshman Paul McNaughton (Hinsdale, Ill.) won a first-round match before falling.
IRISH vs. ILLINI: Illinois enters the match with an 8-2 record this season. The Illini were ranked sixth in the preseason and jumped to No. 2 after a runner-up finish in the USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships. Illinois moved into the top spot last week after then-No. 1 Stanford fell to California, marking the first time since 1989 that any Illinois team has been ranked No. 1. The Illini lost 5-2 to Duke on Sunday, dropping them to fifth in the latest rankings. In Sunday’s match, Illinois won the doubles point, but then lost five singles of six matches, though three were decided in three sets.
Illinois’ only other loss came to Stanford in the final of the team indoor championships — a 4-3 decision that came down to a three-setter at No. 1 singles between two of the top players in the country, Illinois’ Amer Delic and top-ranked K.J. Hippensteel of Stanford.
The Illini have played a strong schedule this season, taking on top-15 teams in each of their first six matches and losing only to the Cardinal. Other notable Illinois victims this season include #21 LSU, #11 Mississippi, #10 California, #9 Pepperdine, and new No. 1 Georgia — the only Bulldog defeat this season.
Five Illinois players are ranked in singles, as are a pair of doubles teams. Delic is the highest-ranked player at No. 9, while Phil Stolt (43rd), Nathan Zeder (67th), Michael Calkins (71st) and Brian Wilson (92nd) are also ranked. In doubles, Delic and Calkins are seventh, while Mike Kosta and Zeder are 58th.
Though the Irish and Illini have not met in dual-match play yet this year, the teams had a number of matchups in fall play. In doubles, Casey Smith (Leawood, Kan.) and Javier Taborga (La Paz, Bolivia) split a pair of matches with Calkins and Delic in fall action, winning 9-7 in the semifinals en route to the consolation title at the ITA All-American Championships and losing 8-6 in the semifinals of the Omni Hotels Region IV Championships, where the Illini pair went on to win the title. There were three singles matches between the schools at the regional championships. Taborga defeated Kosta in straight sets in the third round, while senior Aaron Talarico (Laguna Beach, Calif.) fell to Phil Stolt. In the round of 16, Delic downed sophomore Luis Haddock-Morales (Caguas, Puerto Rico) 7-5, 7-6 (7-3).
In 2001, Illinois was ranked eighth in the preseason and finished 12th after going 22-7 and falling to Mississippi State 4-2 in the second round of the NCAA Championship. The Illini put together a 13-match winning streak in the middle of the season.
Illinois and the Irish will meet for the 30th time and for the 14th consecutive season. Notre Dame leads the series 18-11, but the Illini have won each of the past five meetings, dating back to 1998. That span includes regular-season matches in each of the past four years and a contest in the 2000 Blue-Gray National Classic. The last Irish win was a 4-1 decision in the 1997 Blue-Gray semifinals. Irish head coach Bob Bayliss won each of his first 10 meetings against Illinois before the current skid. Each of the past four matches have been decided by 5-2 scores. The squads first met in 1933 with Illinois registering a 7-0 win.
A season ago, the Illini upset the 10th-ranked Irish by sweeping the doubles point and winning four singles matches, including three-set victories at Nos. 1 and 2.
RAVISHING RANKINGS: This week’s Omni Hotels Collegiate Tennis Rankings mark a number of notable rankings for the Irish. In the team rankings, Notre Dame moved up a spot to No. 6 in the nation, marking the highest ranking for the Irish since early in the 1993 season when they were ranked in the same spot. In the individual rankings, senior Javier Taborga (La Paz, Bolivia) moved up three spots to 20th in singles. Taborga is the first Irish player to crack the national top 20 since Ryan Sachire, who finished the 2000 season ranked 11th. Sachire (’00) was ranked in the national top 20 for nearly all of his career, peaking at No. 2 a number of times. Taborga and classmate Casey Smith (Leawood, Kan.) jumped two spots in the doubles rankings this week to No. 5, which is the highest ranking for a doubles team since 1997 when Brian Patterson and Jakub Pietrowski were ranked fifth in the fall rankings. Also ranked in singles for the Irish are sophomore Matthew Scott (Paris, France) at 53rd and senior Aaron Talarico (Laguna Beach, Calif.) at No. 121.
TABORGA TORNADO: After never playing the position prior to this season, senior Javier Taborga (La Paz, Bolivia) has been dominant in action at No. 1 singles in 2002. He has posted a 10-1 record at No. 1, including straight-set wins over defending NCAA singles and doubles champion Matias Boeker of Georgia (No. 1 in preseason singles rankings), #16 Danny Westerman of Wisconsin, #18 Todd Widom of Miami, #25 Jeremy Wurtzman of Ohio State, #33 Alex Hartman of Mississippi, #40 Michael Yani, #98 Prakash Armitraj of USC, #124 Jason Pressel of Ball State, and then-#74 Jonathan Endrikat of UC-Irvine. Overall, Taborga is 12-2 in dual-match play and has won 16 of his last 19 singles matches. All three of his losses in that span were to ranked players (#1 Harsh Mankad of Minnesota, #3 Al Garland of Pepperdine and #66 Aleksey Zharinov of Minnesota). At last year’s ITA All-American Championships, Taborga defeated Stanford’s K.J. Hippensteel, currently ranked fourth in the nation, denying Hippensteel of the title he won in both 1999 and 2001. Taborga is 19-7 overall this season with three losses coming in match tiebreakers and the other four coming against nationally-ranked players. He advanced to the quarterfinals in last fall’s Region IV Championships before falling to Mankad, a member of the Indian Davis Cup team. Taborga is 15-0 when winning the first set this season. In 2001, he was 23-12 playing No. 2 singles and was 5-3 against ranked players. Of late, Taborga has been involved in some close matches, winning each of his past three tilts in three sets. In those matches, he downed Purdue’s Scott Mayer 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, Michigan State’s Chris Michell 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3 and Widom 6-7, 7-5, 7-6.
SENSATIONAL SCOTT: Sophomore Matthew Scott (Paris, France) has been consistently superb in singles action this season, earning his first national ranking last month. He holds a 22-2 mark, including a 14-0 record in dual matches, playing mostly No. 5. Scott, now ranked 53rd, registered an upset of then-#12 Phil Metz of Ohio State in last fall’s Region IV Championships, eliminating the top-ranked and second-seeded player in the draw. In his career, Scott is 25-2 in dual matches and 39-7 overall in singles.
THE ‘ICO CONNECTION: Senior Aaron Talarico (Laguna Beach, Calif.) and freshman Brent D’Amico (Centennial, Colo.) made their doubles debut together against Northwestern on Feb. 4. After dropping that decision, the pair has reeled off six straight wins. Their first win together came in a tiebreaker against Pepperdine, which clinched the doubles point for the Irish and helped Notre Dame to a 4-3 win. D’Amico is 9-1 in spring doubles play and 11-2 overall and has won each of his last seven doubles tilts.
FINISH WHAT YA STARTED: The top eight singles players for the Irish have been very successful when winning the first set this season. They have combined for a 96-8 (.923) record in 2001-02 when taking the opening set. Particularly successful have been Luis Haddock-Morales (16-0, 31-0 career), Andrew Laflin (10-0, 25 in a row), Matthew Scott (20-1), Javier Taborga (15-0) and Aaron Talarico (12-0, 23 in a row).
ROAD WARRIORS: After playing half of their first 14 matches at home, the Irish will hit the road for nearly the remainder of the season, returning to the Courtney Tennis Center for just two matches (April 6 vs. SMU, April 13 vs. Kentucky) of the remaining 13 matches scheduled before the NCAA tournament. After completing a four-match homestand, Notre Dame traveled to the Pacific Coast Doubles tournament last weekend in La Jolla, Calif. and will now play eight consecutive matches on the road, including action in the Blue-Gray National Tennis Classic next week in Montgomery, Ala. After the brief homestand, Notre Dame goes on the road for its regular-season finale and then travels to Miami, Fla. for the BIG EAST Championships.
HADDOCK HONORED: Sophomore Luis Haddock-Morales (Caguas, Puerto Rico) was named the Olympic Athlete of the Year for Tennis last week by the United States Olympic Committee for Puerto Rico. Haddock-Morales is a three-time member of the Puerto Rican Davis Cup team, won the Puerto Rican national doubles championship in August 2000 and advanced to the final of the national singles championship. Haddock-Morales is the second player in Irish men’s tennis history from Puerto Rico (Pedro Rossello ’66).
KEEPING UP WITH NOTRE DAME TENNIS: For the fastest results of Notre Dame tennis matches, call the Notre Dame sports information hotline at (219) 631-3000 and choose #8. The hotline provides schedule and results information for varsity sports and serves as a supplement to the game recaps and weekly releases provided on the official athletic website at www.und.com. The hotline is the first medium updated with the results of each Notre Dame tennis match. In addition, media members and fans may be added to the sports information e-mail release list by contacting Bo Rottenborn at Rottenborn.email@example.com.