Some coaches might worry about rediscovering momentum and rhythm after a nearly two-week break with exams. Not Brian Boland. Not with this Virginia men’s tennis team.
Boland’s Cavaliers have won three of the past four National Championships and the roster remains stocked with four seniors among its talented core. So while the Hoos had not played since an intense ACC Championship victory against Wake Forest on April 30, they didn’t show any rust in their NCAA Tournament opener Friday. They cruised past Monmouth, 4-0, at the Boar’s Head Sports Club with rain moving the match indoors.
”I think there is, but there isn’t with this team,” Boland said. ”These guys have done a great job of just being able to work through exams. They have an incredible ability to compartmentalize. We’ve had incredibly professional practices where they haven’t had much distraction. … Again, I couldn’t be happier with the team. I really feel good about where they’re at. Just at our team meeting last night, I could sense they were excited to get started.”
UVA opened play with a dominant showing in doubles. Luca Corinteli and Carl Soderlund grabbed a 6-1 win in the No. 1 slot, while Collin Altamirano and J.C. Aragone snared a 6-2 win at No. 3. Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and Alexander Ritschard had posted an equally impressive 5-2 lead at No. 2 when the point was decided.
Singles took on a similar tone. Every Wahoo won the first set with the closest score coming at No. 3 where Soderlund took the opening set 6-4. Every other court saw Virginia win 6-2 or better in the first set. As for the deciding points in the match, Kwiatkowski breezed to a 6-1, 6-0 win against Przemyslaw Filipek at No. 2 to start the chain. Aragone added a 6-1, 6-1 win against Alberto Guiffrida at No. 5. Altamirano closed the scoring at No. 4 with a 6-0, 6-1 victory against Christian Vieira.
Playing his final weekend of tennis in Charlottesville, Kwiatkowski said he tried to focus on consistent strokes and maintaining rallies in his match. That propelled him past Filipek, who he played in the No. 1 slot back in a March 16 match that didn’t finish. He won the first set in that one 6-2, but was on serve in the second.
”I tried to extend the rallies as much as possible and make the points very long because I felt the longer the rally went the more chance I had to get the ball I wanted,” Kwiatkowski said.
Aragone, another senior making his final stand in town, made quick work of his opponent as well. He said he tried to stick to basic strategy and execute shots consistently to get started in the NCAA Tournament. Aragone had defeated Monmouth’s No. 1 player Nicola Pipoli 6-1, 6-4 in the No. 2 spot back in March. Ritschard took the first set against Pipoli on Friday as well.
”The first round, you’ve got to go out there and find your groove,” Aragone said. ”I guess the longer the points are the more comfortable you get, you get the nerves out. That’s kind of what I was trying to do. I was trying to just find it and sticking to patterns going backhand crosscourt and stuff like that. Thankfully we were all able to find it, but first rounds are tough and you have to adapt to the situation and find your tennis.”
With a win in the opening match all but a foregone conclusion, the Cavaliers were focused on disciplined play, efficiency, and a good start to the NCAA Tournament on Friday. They accomplished all of that, which left Boland in a good mood following the match. He said he trusts where this team is right now as it gets started on another run at the team title.
”It was a great start for us,” Boland said. ”It’s always tough to play the first match and I thought the guys came out with a ton of energy and focused throughout the entire match and did a great job. I love the way they competed and I thought they were really disciplined throughout the match and did a good job staying focused on their court.”
Virginia faces Columbia on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the final match in Charlottesville for Boland the team’s four seniors. The Lions outlasted Purdue, 4-2, in a match hat surpassed three hours Friday. The Hoos will carry Boland’s 56-10 NCAA Tournament record at UVA into the match as they try to reach the Sweet 16 for the 14th straight season.