Sometimes going from a 6−3 loss to a 7−2 defeat can actually feel like an improvement. When you’re playing against the No. 1 team in the country, there is such a thing as a moral victory.
In Sunday’s match against first−ranked Amherst, each success seemed like a huge step in the right direction for the men’s tennis team. After falling 6−3 to the Engineers last week, the Jumbos were in need of a performance they could at least hang their hats on, even if it came in a losing effort to the Lord Jeffs.
“We came out a little more relaxed than we usually do,” senior co−captain Sam Laber said. “In previous matches we’ve had problems with doubles because we’ve had too much energy that affected our composure. This time we came out and were composed.”
Nonetheless, the Jumbos were swept in doubles, with every match ending 8−4 in the Lord Jeffs’ favor. For the second match in a row, freshman Brian Tan stepped up to play in the No. 2 spot with junior Ben Barad, as Laber sat out the doubles side of the competition.
Down 3−0 after the break, the Jumbos knew they had nothing to lose in singles, and they played like it. Tufts pushed four of the six matches to three sets, and Barad fought to prolong his match with Joey Fritz, the fifth−ranked player in the nation, before falling 2−6, 6−4, 3−6.
Sophomores Austin Blau and Matt Pataro were the only Jumbos to pick up points in the match, as both pulled out three−set wins. Pataro dropped his first set 4−6 but managed to fight back and take the final two sets, 6−4, 6−1.
“I started off missing a lot of balls,” Pataro said. “But then our coach came to talk to me and told me the only thing I need to do is to make him play. Once I got on a roll in the second set, I cruised.”
The match marked the second consecutive win for Pataro, who has come up big even on days when the team as a whole hasn’t performed at its highest level. Though they didn’t pull off the upset against the Lord Jeffs, the Jumbos are comfortable with the way they battled in singles competition.
“The fight was probably one of the best I’ve seen, even though we were in a bit of a hole,” Pataro said.
“I think we’re all pretty happy with ourselves,” Laber added. “They’ve been wrecking teams left and right, so it’s definitely good to get a couple of matches.
Although Laber didn’t pick up a set on the day, he felt that his matchup, and the entire match, was far closer than the score indicated.
“I played pretty well,” he said. “But I lost a lot of break points. I was in the match, but I was just not playing the big points as well as he was.”
There will be plenty more big points up for grabs as the regular season draws to a close. Only four matches remain in the regular season, all against teams that senior co−captain Morrie Bossen targeted before the season as the team’s most important matchups.
That gauntlet begins this Thursday against a Trinity team that Tufts has played extremely competitively in the past. The Jumbos stand at 2−3 in the NESCAC, and a victory over the 4−2 Bantams would be a massive step toward qualifying for the conference tournament and improving their national ranking.
“It’s definitely a match that we drew a circle around at the beginning of the year,” Laber said. “Traditionally, we’ve gotten them in doubles, so we’re going to look to do that again.”
In the past, the Jumbos have been affected by the Bantams’ hectic, emotional style of play, but they are doing everything in their power to prepare.
“They’ve got a lot of talent, but they seem a bit mentally edgy,” Laber said. “They’re a team that you definitely have to focus for.”
Throughout the year, the team has paid special attention to not letting opponents frustrate them and playing the same style no matter what. This week, going from a confident, calm Amherst opponent to a less predictable Trinity squad will put that method to the test.