Men’s Tennis: Vanderbilt improves to 12-5, but continues to struggle in SEC play

The Commodores hold a home record of 9-3, but have won only one of five SEC matches thus far.


Connie Chen

Head coach Ian Duvenhage speaks to his team before single’s matches against Alabama A&M. (Hustler Multimedia/Connie Chen).

Andrew Wilf, Deputy Sports Editor

Vanderbilt men’s tennis split their four matches from March 18-20. The Commodores routed Alabama A&M 7-0 on Friday and demolished Tennessee State 6-1 on Sunday. Vanderbilt’s success against Alabama A&M and Tennessee State was promising, but a tough 4-3 loss to LSU and a 4-1 defeat against Auburn defined the weekend. Vanderbilt’s two conference losses over the weekend moved the Commodores’ SEC record to 1-4 on the season.

“I thought both LSU and Auburn were extremely motivated, and as they should be, because beating a higher-ranked team helps their situation,” head coach Ian Duvenhage told The Hustler.

Vanderbilt began their match against LSU with a cushion after they gained the first point of the day from winning the doubles point. Siim Troost and Michael Ross—the No. 76 duo in the nation—enforced their will on the top court, defeating LSU’s Ronald Hohmann and Vlad Loback. Senior Macsen Sisam and sophomore Jeremie Casabon clinched the doubles point for Vanderbilt when they won 6-4 on Court 3.

Vanderbilt’s lead evaporated on the singles court, however. LSU came out of the gates running and captured a 2-1 lead after claiming victories on Court 1 and Court 3. Vanderbilt tied the match at two apiece once junior Joubert Klopper’s pair of 6-4 set wins won his match on Court 2. The Commodores and Tigers would continue to exchange points, as Troost took Court 6 in a thrilling three-set victory and LSU’s Diaz Freire defeated Max Freeman on Court 4.

The fate of the match came down to Court 5, where Vanderbilt’s Casabon was matched up against LSU’s Joao Grace. Casabon edged out Grace 7-6 in the first set but fell in a second-set tiebreaker, 7-6. Grace’s momentum overpowered Casabon’s fight and edged out Vanderbilt 6-3. 

“I thought we did a really good job against LSU,” Duvenhage said. “We were unable to put them away. And they just hung around, and finally turned it around and came back to beat us. That was disappointing.”

After a gut-wrenching loss to LSU, the Commodores destroyed Alabama A&M 7-0 and returned to action two days later, on Sunday. To begin Sunday’s doubleheader, No. 29 Vanderbilt clashed with SEC rival Auburn at the Currey Tennis Center. The No. 39 Tigers entered the match with a 13-4 record, and a 2-2 record against SEC opponents.

Vanderbilt’s faceoff against Auburn had a tumultuous beginning, with the Tigers claiming the doubles point after victories on Court 1 and Court 3. On Court 1, Troost and Ross fell victim to a 6-4 loss. Meanwhile—on Court 3—the undefeated streak for Sisam and Casabon shattered when they fell short 7-6 in a well-battled tiebreaker against Auburn’s Raul Dobai and Josh Raab.

“I thought we started off in doubles so badly, and it’s been our Achilles’ heel,” Duvenhage said. “In spite of giving them a 10-1 lead, we came back. We were down two breaks at No. 3 doubles, and we came back in and had a chance to win.”

Trailing by one point after losing the doubles point, the Commodores needed to turn the tide in the singles matches but were only able to win one point. Vanderbilt got off to a slow start, trailing Auburn 3-0 after Auburn’s Raul Dobai moved past Marcus Ferreira on Court 3 (6-3, 7-6(4)) and Tad Maclean bested Freemen on Court 4 (6-2, 6-2).

Vanderbilt’s lone point came from No. 39 George Harwell’s excellent play in his three-set match against Tyler Stice on the top court. A few moments later—on Court 6—Finn Murgett clinched the match for the Tigers when he defeated Troost in a competitive faceoff (6-4, 3-6, 6-3). 

“I don’t know how many SEC teams who rank in the top 25, but it’s a lot,” Duvenhage said. “Playing in the SEC is a completely different animal and we know that and we have to find a way in the upcoming SEC matches to rise to the occasion and play better tennis.”

After Vanderbilt’s silencing loss, the Commodores concluded their weekend with a decisive 6-1 victory over their Nashville rival, Tennessee State. Vanderbilt clinched the home-and-home series against Tennessee State on Sunday.

The Commodores will return to action on Wednesday when they host Indiana at 2 p.m. CDT. 

“Today, once again, we’re the higher-ranked team, and we have to be ready for an Indiana team that is going to be highly motivated,” Duvenhage said. “If we can find a way to win against Indiana, that would make our nonconference record 11-1 [in the regular season].”