Aug. 13, 2006
FONTANA, Austria – The University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team took part in an exhibition match – or vergleichskampf – Sunday at the Tennis Point Vienna club, falling 6-3 to T-Lab (Tennis Lab), a side made up of Austrian professional players. The match was played on red clay courts – common in Austria, but seldom seen in the careers of the Irish players – giving a distinct advantage to the home squad, which served as an outstanding host. Among the highlights for Notre Dame was senior team captain Stephen Bass (Bronxville, N.Y./Iona Preparatory School) posting a victory against a player formerly ranked among the top 150 in the world.
After seeing mostly drizzle and cloudy skies during the first four days of Notre Dame’s European tour, the weather cleared on Sunday, giving the Irish players a chance to play outdoors on the red clay – despite having not been able to practice at all on the surface. The match featured a traditional college format of six singles and three doubles matches, with all of them being the best of three sets with a match tiebreaker played in place of a final set. Due to this, the doubles matches were each worth one point (as opposed to being worth a total of one point when they are played as pro sets). Other differences from the college game were a prohibition on coaching and calling balls hitting the netcord on serves as lets. The match was played on three courts, with Nos. 2, 4, and 6 singles played first and followed by the other singles contests and then the three doubles matches. The affair was organized by T-Lab head coach Roland Berger and Notre Dame senior and Vienna native Irackli Akhvlediani (Vienna, Austria/Vienna International School), who has excelled in managing the logistics of the team’s stay in his hometown, delivering many experiences that would not normally be possible for the travel party.
Bass’ performance was not entirely surprising, given that he is one of the team’s most-accomplished clay-court players. During his time playing the United States Tennis Association (USTA) juniors circuit, he won the doubles title in the USTA Super National Clay Court Championships in the 14-and-under division and also was the singles runner-up in the 18s, shortly before enrolling at Notre Dame. He went unbeaten on Sunday, first delivering a surprising 3-6, 6-0, 1-0 (11-9) win against Wolfgang Schranz at No. 1 singles. The 30-year-old Austrian – a 12-year veteran of the pro tour who peaked at 136th in the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) world singles rankings in 1998 and currently stands 891st – won the first five games of the match and appeared to be cruising when Bass turned things around, taking nine of the next 10 games and then gutting out a match tiebreaker for the triumph. Schranz – also the team’s assistant coach – has played in the Davis Cup for his country and also took part in the singles main draw of the French Open in both 1997 and ’98. He has five career victories against players that have peaked among the world’s top 20 in the ATP rankings, having beaten 2004 French Open champion Gaston Gaudio (career high singles ranking: 5th), Rainer Schuettler (5th), Guillermo Canas (10th), Gilbert Schaller (17th), and Stefan Koubek (20th). Bass – who has played No. 1 for the Irish the last two seasons – has been ranked as high as eighth in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) national collegiate singles rankings. He holds a 73-35 career record and finished 29th a season ago.
In doubles, Bass paired with sophomore Santiago Montoya (Scottsdale, Ariz./St. Stephen’s Episcopal School [TX]) – who grew up playing on red clay in his native Colombia – for a 6-4, 6-3 win against Michael Linzer and Shukin at No. 3 doubles. It was a breakthrough for the pair, which stands winless in four collegiate matches together.
The other win for Notre Dame came from senior Barry King (Dublin, Ireland/Gonzaga College), who won 6-2, 6-1 against Alexander Bilcik at No. 5 despite his clay-court resume featuring just a single tournament played when he was 14 years of age.
The outcome of the team match was still up for grabs heading to the doubles, with T-Lab leading 4-2. Georg Novak and Christian Kern clinched the win for the Austrians by defeating King and 2006 graduate Eric Langenkamp 6-2, 6-3 at No. 2 doubles.
Notre Dame almost got a win in the other doubles match, but Schranz and Kristopher Sotiriu prevailed 4-6, 6-3, 1-0 (10-5) against senior Ryan Keckley (South Bend, Ind./St. Joseph’s H.S.) and junior Sheeva Parbhu (Omaha, Neb./Millard North H.S.) at No. 1.
The Austrians took a 3-0 lead by posting a trio of straight-set victories in the opening wave of matches. First off was Novak – who is ranked 1,099th in the world after being as high as 776th before serving eight months in the military and then breaking his patella. He beat Parbhu 6-4, 6-4 at No. 2 to give T-Lab a lead it would not relinquish. Parbhu – the only player on the Irish to currently carry an ATP ranking (1,379th in the world in singles) – was an ITA All-American last season, reaching the quarterfinals of the NCAA Singles Championship, but he has very little experience on clay and none in the last four years. He boasts a 65-15 career singles record in collegiate play, including 39-8 in dual matches.
Keckley – another player with very little experience on clay – started out strong at No. 6 singles, taking a 4-1 lead in the opening set before dropping 11 straight games in a 6-4, 6-0 loss to 16-year-old Michael Linzer – the top player in his age group in Austria.
Akhvlediani fell 6-3, 6-2 to Kern, ranked 1,557th in the world, at No. 4, while Sotiriu – who lives in Chicago – beat sophomore Brett Helgeson (Overland Park, Kan./Blue Valley West H.S.) 6-4, 6-3 at No. 3 singles.
The team was treated to a spaghetti dinner at Tennis Point Vienna after the match, and the Austrians then took the Irish players downtown to take in several local sights.
Notre Dame will practice on red clay on Tuesday before heading to Dublin, Ireland, where it will play exhibition matches on grass courts – set up by King – on Friday and Saturday.
Follow the team’s three-country European tour on the official website of Notre Dame athletics, www.und.com, by clicking on the European tour button on the men’s tennis page.
T-Lab 6, Notre Dame 3SinglesNo. 1: Stephen Bass (ND) def. Wolfgang Schranz (TL) 3-6, 6-0, 1-0 (11-9)No. 2: Georg Novak (TL) def. Sheeva Parbhu (ND) 6-4, 6-4No. 3: Kristopher Sotiriu (TL) def. Brett Helgeson (ND) 6-4, 6-3No. 4: Christian Kern (TL) def. Irackli Akhvlediani (ND) 6-3, 6-2No. 5: Barry King (ND) def. Alexander Bilcik (TL) 6-2, 6-1No. 6: Michael Linzer (TL) def. Ryan Keckley (ND) 6-4, 6-0Order of Finish: 2, 6, 4, 5, 1, 3DoublesNo. 1: Schranz/Sotiriu (TL) def. Keckley/Parbhu (ND) 4-6, 6-3, 1-0 (10-5)No. 2: * Kern/Novak (TL) def. King/Eric Langenkamp (ND) 6-2, 6-3No. 3: Bass/Santiago Montoya (ND) def. Linzer/Shukin (TL) 6-4, 6-3Order of Finish: 2*, 1, 3* - indicates match-clinching victory