Men’s tennis stuns Williams with epic comeback, prevailing 5-4
By Brenton Arnaboldi '14 and Varun Iyengar '14, Managing Sports Editor and Staff Writer
With two impressive victories this week, the fourth-ranked men’s tennis team continued its blistering start to the spring season. After beating non-conference foes Skidmore and Vassar a week earlier, the team’s record stood at 21-1 (1-0) as the Jeffs headed into a difficult weekend schedule against two tough conference opponents, No. 14-ranked Bowdoin and No. 9-ranked Williams. Yet the team rose to the challenge, dominating Bowdoin and edging out Williams in a marathon match to remain undefeated in conference play.

When Amherst and Williams battle on the tennis courts, differences in skill and talent become neutralized, while intangible qualities such as mental toughness take on heightened importance.

On paper, the No. 4 Jeffs should have handled Williams comfortably in a home dual match this Sunday. Amherst ranks among the favorites to win the national title this season, while the Ephs will probably struggle to qualify for the year-ending NCAA championships. But this rivalry often defies logic, with match results often determined by passion and hunger as opposed to actual tennis ability.

The upset-minded Ephs jumped out to a strong start, holding a 2-1 lead after the doubles round. The situation grew only bleaker for Amherst early in the singles round, as the Ephs won the first set in five of the six singles matches. Andrew Jung ’12 earned a 6-4, 6-2 win at No. 6 singles, but the Jeffs would need to turn the tables in three of the other five matches to eke out a victory, hardly an easy task given all the one-set deficits.

With Amherst on the brink of defeat, the desperate home crowd amped up the vocal support, urging the Jeffs to mount an improbable comeback. As the Jeffs clawed their way back into the match, the momentum slowly began to shift to the home side, with vibes of determination and confidence resonated from court to court.

After dropping the first set at No. 3 singles, Joey Fritz ’14 steamrolled his opponent 6-0 in the second set, relentlessly pounding the ball from corner to corner. No. 1 singles player Luis Rattenhuber ’13, facing off against the ITA’s top-ranked player in the Northeast, Felix Sun, lost the first set before taking the second 6-1, overwhelming Sun with aggressive net play. The gutsiest comeback, however, came from Mark Kahan ’13 at No. 2 singles.

For much of the first two sets, Kahan’s opponent — Matt Micheli — played like a man on a mission, blasting big forehand winners left and right. But Kahan’s steadiness and mental toughness prevailed in the key moments. With Micheli serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, Kahan broke his opponent’s serve, then rattled off the next two games to win the second set 7-5. The Jeffs were right back in the hunt.

Fritz pulled out the third set 6-4, tying the match at 3-3. Rattenhuber and Kahan, however, each fell into a 4-1 hole in their third sets. Despite losing the first few games of the third set, Rattenhuber continued his strategy of attacking the net. The German was able to erase the deficit and push the match into a decisive third-set tiebreaker.

After Sun double-faulted while serving on match point at 6-5 in the tiebreak, Rattenhuber won the next point after audaciously charging to the net off a slice forehand return before serving out the match.

After falling behind 4-1 early in the deciding set, Kahan responded by pulling off a string of four straight games. He eventually clinched the victory 7-5 in the third when his opponent’s final shot sailed long, eliciting a myriad of screams and cheers from the raucous home crowd.

The Jeffs’ win improved their record to 6-1 in their past seven meetings against the archrival Ephs.

In the earlier doubles round, the Jeffs’ No. 1 tandem of co-captain Mortiz Koenig ’11 and Waterman earned an 8-3 victory, but the other Amherst pairings fell short. The Jeffs’ loss at No. 3 doubles was particularly deflating; the Amherst duo held a 5-0 lead, but the Ephs’ No. 3 team stormed back en route to a 8-6 result.

The Jeffs opened their weekend against Bowdoin College, earning a 7-2 win over the Polar Bears. The team swept all three doubles points, but the singles matches proved to be more competitive. At No. 1 singles, Fritz was impressive in taking the first set 6-3 from Stephen Sullivan, the region’s fourth-ranked player. However, Sullivan stormed back to edge Fritz out in a close second set, 7-5, before closing out the match in a third-set tiebreak, 10-4.

Bowdoin’s No. 4 singles player followed Sullivan’s example with a comeback win of his own, 2-6, 7-6(4), 10-4, over Koenig. The Jeffs earned some payback at No. 2 singles, as Kahan pulled out a come-from-behind victory of his own 5-7, 6-4, 10-7.

Amherst faced a much steeper challenge the following day against Williams, as the Ephs unleashed a higher level of intensity and determination. With a series of gutsy comeback efforts, however, the Jeffs pulled out the thrilling victory.

Amherst will put its undefeated conference record to the test again next weekend, as they face NESCAC opponents Colby and Tufts. The team will look to continue building momentum with the NESCAC Championships quickly approaching in late April.

Issue 22, Submitted 2011-04-13 20:00:15