March 7, 2002
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Irish seniors helped the sixth-ranked University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team register its third victory over a top-10 foe this season by edging fifth-ranked Illinois 4-3 on Thursday. The Irish won the doubles point and split the six singles matches to improve to 12-3 on the season. The doubles point came down to a tiebreaker in the decisive match, while four singles matches were determined in three sets, with each team winning two. Illinois, who was ranked No. 1 in the nation last week, dropped its second match in a row to fall to 8-3. Notre Dame will return to action next week, defending its title in the Blue/Gray National Tennis Classic in Montgomery, Ala. from March 14-17.
“It’s special to beat a team that was No. 1 in the country yesterday morning (before the new rankings were released),” said Irish head coach Bob Bayliss after the victory. “I’m pretty excited to see these seniors play so well. Seniors were responsible for every match we won today. It’s rewarding to see these guys putting it all together after all their hard work. It has been awhile since Illinois lost a match indoors at home. This is the highlight of our year so far.”
For the second time this season, senior captain Casey Smith (Leawood, Kan.) was the final match on-court in a 3-3 tilt, delivering an Irish upset of a top-10 team on both occasions. On Thursday, Smith withstood a number of rallies to defeat 92nd-ranked Brian Wilson 7-5, 6-7 (6-8), 6-4 at No. 2. The Irish captain performed a similar feat against then-No. 7 Pepperdine last month. Wilson came back from a 4-0 deficit in the second set to force a tiebreaker and then rallied from a 6-1 margin in the tiebreaker to win seven straight points (saving five team match points) to force a third set. In the final set, Wilson trailed 5-1, but ran off three straight games. Smith, down love-30 in the ensuing game, delivered four straight points to clinch the victory.
“I was real proud of the poise Casey showed,” said Bayliss. “He was on the verge of winning a couple of times and had to hold off Wilson, but he got it done. That is the second time he has been the decisive match in a win over a top-10 team this season.”
Fellow senior Javier Taborga (La Paz, Bolivia) continued his extraordinary play at No. 1 singles, upsetting the No. 9 player in the country, Amer Delic, 6-2, 6-4. Taborga, ranked 20th nationally in singles, improved to 11-1 at No. 1 this season after never playing the position before. His list of victims includes the defending NCAA singles and doubles champion and nine players currently holding national rankings. Delic is the fifth top-25 player to fall to Taborga this season and the win marked the second time in the Irish senior’s career he defeated a player ranked in the national top 10 at the time. Taborga knocked off then-No. 3 K.J. Hippensteel of Stanford in last year’s ITA All-American Championships.
“Javy is clearly demonstrating that he is for real,” said Bayliss. “Delic is a top-10 player in the country and indoors (where Thursday’s match was played), he is probably better than that. This was a very big win for him.”
The Irish won the top two doubles matches to take a 1-0 lead. Smith and Taborga, ranked fifth nationally in doubles, gained an impressive 8-5 win over the nation’s seventh-ranked team of Delic and Michael Calkins at No. 1. This was the third time the two squads matched up this season, with each winning once previously. Smith and Taborga have won eight of their last nine matches. The Illini fought back with an 8-6 win at No. 3 doubles by Mike Kosta and Nathan Zeder. In the deciding match, seniors James Malhame (Douglaston, N.Y.) and Ashok Raju (Morgantown, W. Va.) rallied from a 5-1 deficit, down two breaks of serve, to win 9-8 (7-4) and clinch the doubles point for the Irish.
Notre Dame and Illinois split the singles matches, though four were decided in three sets. Taborga finished first, giving the Irish a 2-0 lead. He is 13-2 this spring and has won 17 of his last 20 matches with all three losses coming to ranked opponents. Kosta got the Illini on the board with a 6-1, 6-3 win at No. 4 before 43rd-ranked Phil Stolt tied the match with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 win at No. 3. Senior Andrew Laflin (Tampa, Fla.) put the Irish within a match of clinching the victory with a 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 triumph at No. 6. Laflin improved to 12-0 this season with his 14th straight victory. Calkins, ranked 51st in singles, knotted the match at 3-3 with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 win at No. 5, setting up Smith’s clinching victory.
“It was noteworthy that we lost two matches in close third sets,” asserted Bayliss. “Of course, they were close to winning because the match was so close. But we were close to winning by a large margin, as well.”
The win broke a four-match losing streak for Notre Dame against Illinois.
#6 Notre Dame 4, #5 Illinois 3
No. 1: #20 Javier Taborga (ND) d. #9 Amer Delic (I) 6-2, 6-4
No. 2: Casey Smith (ND) d. #92 Brian Wilson (I) 7-5, 6-7 (6-8), 6-4
No. 3: #43 Phil Stolt (I) d. #121 Aaron Talarico (ND) 6-3, 2-6, 6-4
No. 4: Mike Kosta (I) d. Luis Haddock-Morales (ND) 1, 3
No. 5: #71 Michael Calkins (I) d. Matthew Scott (ND) 6-3, 3-6, 7-5
No. 6: Andrew Laflin (ND) d. #67 Nathan Zeder (I) 1-6, 6-1, 6-3
No. 1: #5 Smith/Taborga (ND) d. #7 Delic/Calkins (I) 8-5
No. 2: James Malhame/Ashok Raju (ND) d. Stolt/Wilson (I) 9-8 (7-4)
No. 3: #58 Kosta/Zeder (I) d. Brent D’Amico/Talarico (ND) 8-6