Men’s tennis fights inexperience through early season

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Photo Credit: Jack Myer | Daily Texan Staff

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in The Daily Texan's February 2 print edition.

Heading into the 2020-21 season, the loss of two of the best players in college tennis lingered over the narrative surrounding the Texas men’s tennis squad. 

“In many ways, I think last year’s team was perceived to be the Christian (Sigsgaard) and Yuya (Ito) show, plus a bunch of the freshmen,” head coach Bruce Berque said.

Now, it’s just the freshmen. 

But the young and inexperienced group shook off the whispers surrounding the program early in the season. Texas started 4–0, toppled No. 9 Florida 4-3 on Jan. 23 and jumped up the rankings to No. 4 in the nation.

Then, on Saturday, Texas fell to No. 6 Baylor in a close 4-1 match. 

“We’re good enough to have a chance to beat any team we play this year,” Berque said. “I think we proved that when we beat Florida and battled tooth and nail with Baylor.”

But the next day, the Longhorns barely squeezed by Arizona State 4-3. Berque had been preaching consistency to the team, who learned their lesson in Sunday’s upset scare.

“We didn’t approach the match the same way we did in the Baylor match,” Berque said. “In that respect, I think our youth and inexperience were apparent. … We’re not quite there yet.”

The difference from day-to-day was most obvious in doubles, the first matches of the day.

Against the No. 10-ranked Baylor doubles team, Texas sophomores Siem Woldeab and Eliot Spizzirri won 6-4 to help the Longhorns clinch the doubles point. Then Woldeab and Spizzirri dropped to Arizona State’s top doubles pair in a 6-0 loss the next day.

“That should never happen,” Berque said. “That’s a reflection of those guys not approaching the match the same way. If there was ever a time to learn that lesson, it’s doubles.”

With Ito and Sigsgaard gone, it’s now up to Woldeab, freshman Micah Braswell and Spizzirri to play top opponents match-in and match-out as Texas’ top singles players. 

With that responsibility comes a need for consistency, Berque said.

The good news for the Longhorns is that they’ll have the opportunity to work on consistency on Feb. 6 against Incarnate Word and Texas A&M Corpus Christi before the ITA National Team Indoor Championship comes the weekend after.

“It’s got to look the same no matter who we’re playing,” Berque said. “Sometimes it requires a loss for it to hurt enough to learn the lesson, so that’s what I’m looking forward to see if we can approach these matches the same way we will in the Indoor Championships next weekend.”

Lack of consistency and inexperience aside, one thing is clear from Texas’ start to the season: The team has the firepower to beat any team in the nation. After all, the Longhorns still are the defending national champions, however long ago that feels.

Texas will need every bit of that firepower against a stacked Big 12 schedule, with five other ranked teams to come in conference play, including a rematch against Baylor and a match against No. 3 TCU.