Ball State men’s tennis hosts Eastern Illinois and Belmont in season home-opener

<p>Marko Guzina won in straight sets during the match against Eastern Illinois' Gage Kingsmith on Jan. 22 in Muncie's Northwest YMCA. Guzina won both sets 6-0 and 6-2. <strong>Grace Ramey, DN File</strong></p>

Marko Guzina won in straight sets during the match against Eastern Illinois' Gage Kingsmith on Jan. 22 in Muncie's Northwest YMCA. Guzina won both sets 6-0 and 6-2. Grace Ramey, DN File

The Northwest YMCA is going to be the place to watch men’s tennis this weekend as Ball State will host Eastern Illinois on Saturday for its home opener. Head tennis coach Bill Richards said he’s happy to play at home.

“Well obviously you always like to play at home,” Richards said. “Not much to say about that. It’s always good to be home.”

This week during practices the team has been practicing more, as compared before the match against Indiana.

“All of our practices throughout the week is a combination of singles, doubles and drills focusing on individual weaknesses and conditioning,” Richards said. “It’s just a combination of everything.”

Ball State saw Eastern Illinois in Bloomington, when it faced Indiana. Unfortunately for both the Cardinals and Panthers, the Hoosiers won both of the matches. But how did the Panthers do last season?

The Panthers lost to the Cardinals (0-7) and finished in last place in the Ohio Valley Conference with an overall record of 4-19.

In the last fall tournament, the Panthers attended the Illinois State Redbird Invitational, where they saw successful performances by sophomore Freddie O’Brien and senior Trent Reiman.

At the Invitational, O’Brien was able to record a 2-1 singles record against teams like Butler, Indiana State and Marquette, while Reiman went 1-1 in singles play.

But when O’Brien and Reiman paired up for doubles, the two went 2-1 in doubles action. Those are two of the players to look out for when facing the Panthers. To prepare for the match against Eastern Illinois, the Cardinals were able to practice more at Northwest YMCA.

This week the men’s tennis team was able to practice more on the court, as opposed to only practicing for eight hours at a time.

“That’s the only way you can prepare and get better,” Richards said. “It’s good to be able to do that for sure.”

During these practices, freshman Chris Adams has been focusing on his returns and serves, two very important aspects of his game.

“It’s big cause we haven’t had a ton of time in the past week,” Adams said. “Last practice week we were on eight hours, so we didn’t get a whole ton of time to do everything we wanted to.”

While practicing more often, Adams is able to put more focus on his singles play. Ball State dropped all six singles matches last weekend against Indiana, including Adam's heartbreaking third set. 

“I think that was a good learning experience, doing that well against a really good opponent,” Adams said. “Obviously, I didn’t pull it out and I can learn from that and learn how to play in the big moments from there.”

A doubles pair to lookout for is Adams and junior Tom Carney. Adams and Carney were one of the pairs to get a win against Indiana last weekend. Adams said this was the first time the duo played with each other.

“It was the first time we played together, but we were a good team,” Adams said. “Tom has a big serve and big forehand. That kind of complements how I play. I think we’re a good team.”

To close out the homestand this weekend, Ball State will face another member of the Ohio Valley Conference in Belmont. Richards said both Eastern Illinois and Belmont are good teams.

“We had a very competitive match with both of those teams last year,” Richards said. “We’re able to win both of those matches, but both were very tough matches. I thought Belmont played Tennessee pretty competitively. We’re looking forward to having two home matches, but we have to be at our best to win either or both of them.”

After their last meet, the Cardinals will have 11 more non-conference matches, before beginning Mid-American Conference play. Richards said every match is important.

“Obviously anything that a team does in their pre-conference season helps you to be ready for your conference season,” Richards said. “You want to win every match and want to see improvement. It’s always a lot more fun when you win.”

Last season, the Bruins finished in fourth place in the OVC with an overall record of 10-13. They lost to Tennessee Tech (4-1) in the OVC Semifinals, but picked up a few key non-conference wins. Belmont beat No. 32 Rollins (5-2), IUPUI (7-0) and Eastern Illinois.

In the first match of the season, the Bruins faced the Volunteers and lost 6-1. The lone victory for the Bruins came from sophomore Hendrik Inno in a singles match against Nicaise Muamba. Inno defeated Muamba in three sets (6-4, 2-6, 1-0 (13-11). In doubles action, the Bruins got swept by the Volunteers. For the Cardinals, they hope to keep the streak of beating a team in doubles action into this weekend.

At practices, freshman Thibault De Negri said he has been focusing on trying to keep the feeling going from practicing more this week.

“I’m focusing more on hitting my serves stronger and the big shots just blowing them out,” De Negri said. “I’m making sure I’m confident with them in my matches this weekend.”

De Negri and the rest of the Cardinal squad will have more practice time to focus on singles play, which they struggled against Indiana in. De Negri said they have been practicing singles play very hard against each other.

“I mean yeah, this week we practice more and that will help get us to a higher level,” De Negri said. “We will get back to our old forms before break.”

Big moments will come this weekend as the Cardinals will open up their home season against two non-conference opponents. The match is slated to start at 1 p.m. at the Northwest YMCA.

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