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Men’s tennis makes perfect start to home calendar with two wins over Big 10 opponents

<h5>Men’s tennis has gone 3–1 against Big 10 opponents this season.</h5>
<h6>Vedant Shah/The Daily Princetonian.</h6>
Men’s tennis has gone 3–1 against Big 10 opponents this season.
Vedant Shah/The Daily Princetonian.

Power. Placement. Precision. 

The Princeton men’s tennis team perfected all three of these to complement their 4–3 win over Wisconsin on Friday and a clinical 6–1 win against Penn State on Sunday.

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After starting the season with four consecutive away matches due to COVID-19 complications and rescheduling, the return to Jadwin Gymnasium was a long-awaited comfort for the tennis players. 

“We’ve been on the road a lot,” head coach Billy Pate told The Daily Princetonian. “I know the guys are really happy to be back home and sleep in their own bed. It really is a lot easier.”

The format for both the Wisconsin and Penn State matchups first consisted of three doubles teams from each school facing off in one-set matches. The first school to win two of these one-set matches won, taking a point toward the final tally. The teams then engaged in six singles matches, each worth one point, for a total of seven points to be decided. 

The doubles match against Wisconsin saw an amazing turnaround as seniors Justin Barki and Ryan Seggerman made a big comeback. They were down 1–4 in the third set, only to win the next five games and secure the set 6–4 and a point for the Tigers. 

“This is why you play tennis. The big moments and getting to play crucial points,” Seggerman told the ‘Prince.’ “You’ve got to just embrace the moment because that’s what ultimately makes tennis, and sport in general, great.” 

Wins for No. 3 singles senior Damian Rodriguez and No. 6 singles junior Will Peters built up to a dramatic climax where the score was tied at three-all, with just one point left to be decided. No. 4 singles Barki managed to claw his way back after losing the first set to win (6–7, 7–5, 6–1). 

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“Wisconsin played really well and they came after us, so we had to match their energy,” Pate said. “Fortunately we were able to do enough, and Justin came through and clinched the match for us.” 

The match against Wisconsin finished Friday night, leaving just one day of rest before facing Penn State at noon on Sunday, but they did not have much down time. The team used their single day off to strategize for the Sunday game.

“We talked [Saturday] in practice about doing some subtle things that we can correct that didn’t allow us to be as successful on Friday night,” Pate said. “We wanted to be as good as we could on every single court today.” 

The Tigers took a 1–0 early lead once again, winning two of their three doubles sets against Penn State. They then fortified their lead with wins in five out of the six singles matches courtesy of No. 1 singles Seggerman, No. 2 senior Karl Poling, No. 3 Rodriguez, No. 4 Peters and No. 6 senior Bill Duo. 

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In what was the team’s fourth match in just nine days, the final score was a clinical 6–1, which wrapped up the most demanding part of their schedule this season. During the past two weeks, the Tigers played five matches —three of which were decided by two or fewer points.

“There’s a lot going on; on the court, off the court and even in your head. Our team is full of great guys and great competitors, and everyone is fired up on game day,” Seggerman said. 

“I think the mental aspect is equally as important as the physical; some even argue more,“ Pate added. “The disappointment of missing a shot can easily impact the next two points. You have about five seconds to get over it. We preach that all the time; you should really have short term memory and move on to the next point.” 

The Tigers will move on to their next matches this coming weekend at the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships (ECACC) in Ithaca, N.Y. before heading to the Blue Gray Classic in Montgomery, Ala. the following weekend from Feb. 25–26.

Vedant Shah is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at vds@princeton.edu or on Twitter at @VedantS67190694. 

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