Tennis puts Temple away
Senior Hicham Laalej wins decisive third set to give Quakers a four-hour marathon win
February 3, 2011, 6:06 am·
During Nik DeVore’s four-year tenure as coach of the Penn men’s tennis team, the Quakers have never lost to a City 6 rival.
Wednesday night, that streak was in jeopardy until senior captain Hicham Laalej pulled through with a come-from-behind victory in the decisive final match against the Owls' No. 1 Filip Rams.
Penn defeated Temple, 4-3, at Levy Pavilion in the Quakers' first real test of the season.
After losing the first set, 6-7, Laalej fell behind 4-3 in the second but rallied back to win three straight games and even the score.
In the pivotal third set, Laalej was able to break Rams’ serve, but the Temple sophomore was able to break back and keep even with Laalej. The Penn senior came through with a second break to make the score 3-2, and he never looked back.
Wednesday’s affair was also the first time that the Red and Blue (3-0) lost multiple matches against a City 6 team since Nik Devore’s first spring match against Drexel more than three years ago.
At that time, Hicham Laalej was playing at Stetson University, where he would go on to win Atlantic Sun Player of the Year before transferring to Penn.
Laaelej missed all of last season due to a broken leg, and the team struggled as a result.
“Coming back, it took a while,” DeVore said. “In the fall, he still wasn’t quite there 100 percent, and the confidence wasn’t there. But tonight was his coming-out party.”
DeVore sees this match as the start of great things, not just for Laalej, but for the team in general.
“This match could easily have gone the other way, and the fact that our number one player — our senior captain — pulled it out for us is really going to build up everyone’s confidence,” DeVore said.
However, difficult losses by some of the team’s most steady players may have the opposite effect on the team’s confidence.
The Quakers dynamic freshmen duo of Ivan Turudic and Zachary Katz lost their second match of the season at first doubles. Including fall matches, Turudic and Katz, the sixth-ranked doubles team in the Northeast, are now 11-2.
“We’re going to be fine,” DeVore noted. “Those guys are really, really good.”
The coach also said sophomore Jason Magnes’ 6-4, 2-6, 2-6 loss was a fluke incident.
Magnes had difficulty serving throughout his match and by the third set was serving underhand.
“Jason won 26 matches for us last year; he was money,” DeVore said. “I hope it is nothing mental because he is arguably our best competitor.”
DeVore also noted that two of the team’s best players, Eugen Brazdil and Phil Law did not play due to other commitments. When those two return, DeVore will have to figure out what the new lineup will look like.
“My goal is to solidify the lineup within the first six matches of the season because then they can get used to playing together and develop chemistry,” DeVore said.
He expects Brazdil and Law back against Army this weekend, but has downplayed the importance of figuring out the lineup immediately.
“In the end everything is preparation for the Ivy season,” Devore explained. “For now, winning is not imperative; we want to make sure that we’re healthy and confident for Ivy season.”