UC Riverside’s men’s tennis (3-2) team started their season with a long trip to the desert, where they played five Arizona teams on a road trip that spanned from Jan. 17 to 20. During the packed weekend the Highlanders faced Ottawa University Arizona, Arizona Christian University, Grand Canyon University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.
On Friday, Jan. 17, the Highlanders kicked off their season-opening trip with a 7-0 shut-out win against Ottawa University Arizona (0-1). The first doubles match was a close one, with sophomore Andreas Whelan-Meridiz and freshman Daniel Velek fighting for the 7-5 set victory, while the Highlanders won the other doubles sets 6-0 and 6-3. Senior Nabil Abdullah also won the first singles match 6-4 and 7-6 to prevent a third set.
UC Riverside remained undefeated when they faced Arizona Christian University (0-1) and Grand Canyon University (0-5) on Saturday, Jan. 18. The 7-0 win against Arizona Christian was overwhelming in singles and doubles, with the Highlanders never giving up more than three points in a set.
The second win of the day was even more exciting, as it marked the first time the Highlanders defeated Grand Canyon University since 2014. The hard-fought 4-2 victory was highlighted by two 6-2 doubles match victories in the number two, which were played by senior Gilbert Chung and senior Nabil Abdallah; additionally, the number three doubles matches was won by Whelan-Merediz and Velek.
Whelan-Merediz, Chung and Velek all went on to win their singles matches to secure the win. “The win versus GCU was big for us, especially after losing 0-7 to them last season. It was nice to see such a turnaround. In this specific match, everyone contributed to the win, it was a real team win,” Head Coach Mattias Johansson said in an interview with The Highlander.
The Highlanders saw their first loss of the season on Sunday, Jan. 19 against the University of Arizona (4-0). The Pac12 Wildcats were placed just outside of the national preseason AP Top 25 poll and did not concede a single match to the Highlanders in the 7-0 defeat. Johansson said, “It is never fun to lose big, but if you are going to do that, this was a good match to do so, versus an outstanding team!” He continued, “U of A is a great team like several teams in the Big West and I feel we have closed the gap to the top teams — and we are heading in the right direction.”
UCR bounced back on Monday, Jan. 20 in hopes to end their desert trip with a win against Northern Arizona University, but failed in a 5-2 loss. Losing all three doubles matches, the Highlanders were forced to rely on singles play points, where Chung and freshman Nikita Horunzhy were the only Highlanders to secure a win. “Guys were definitely physically worn out by the NAU match, but that’s how it is when you play tennis for UCR,” Johansson said. He added, “I think we played our worst match as a team versus NAU. I’m convinced the score would have been different if this would have been one of the first matches of the trip, but the point is that guys must be able to perform even if they feel worn out.”
Next, UCR will travel to Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday, Jan. 30, to battle against the University of Hawaii (0-3).