When freshman Nicholas Paulus woke up early on the morning of Friday, Sept. 7, the day of the first match of his collegiate career at the Navy Blue Invitational, he didn’t know if he was going to be medically cleared to play tennis that day.
Cleared one hour before his match against St. Bonaventure, the good news did not translate into positive results on the court. Paulus lost his first singles match 4–6, 6–3, 1–0 (10–3) to Bonnies’ senior Luis Guevara.
“I was nervous before the match,” Paulus said. “But when I began my match, I was just playing my match, like always.”
Paulus was not medically cleared until 10 a.m. on Friday because his insurance had yet to be approved. Paulus, who hails from Rheinau, Germany, has only been in the United States for two weeks.
Coach Steve Mauro was happy with Paulus’ first-time effort in a new place.
“[Paulus] was very nervous,” Mauro said. “He played a really good match.”
Paulus also played his first doubles match on Friday, partnering with senior Kacper Rams. They were defeated 8–5 by Guevara and Bonnies’ senior Oscar Yanez.
“I can play better than [Friday],” Paulus said.
Despite the two losses, Mauro took a positive approach to Paulus’ performance.
“[Paulus] showed that he had the capacity to be a very strong player in this conference,” Mauro said.
Paulus lost again in singles and doubles against Delaware on Saturday, but captured his first career win and went 2–0 against Navy on Sunday.
Hicham Belkssir was another freshman who made his debut at the Navy Blue Invite. Belkssir lost his singles match 6–7, 6–3, 1–0 (10–6) to Bonnies’ junior Javier Ortiz. However, Belkssir united with sophomore Kristian Marquart to win 8–6 in doubles.
Despite the doubles victory, Belkssir said he wasn’t happy with his performance.
“I don’t think I did well,” Belkssir said. “I can do better.”
Belkssir, a native of Rabat, Morocco, acknowledged that it was only his first match and said he hopes to improve after going 0-6 last weekend.
“It was really hot [Friday], and I think he tired out,” Mauro said. “We left Temple at 5:45 [a.m.] It was a long day.”
“[Mauro] gave me bananas, which helped,” Belkssir said. “He was cheering us on.”
Mauro said that both Belkssir and Paulus will be impact players this season, citing their success in their home countries. He singled out Belkssir, saying that fans should “expect him to contribute.”
“[Belkssir and Paulus] are top players in their country,” Mauro said.
A third freshman, Maros Januvka, is listed on the roster, but did not compete at the Navy Blue Invite. Mauro said that another player or two may be added to the team before team-scoring matches begin in February.
Both Belkssir and Paulus said they were not used to the playing surface at Navy.
“I’m used to playing on clay courts,” Belkssir said. “This match was on a hard court.”
Mauro noted that the day was a milestone for Belkssir and Paulus.
“It was a new experience for them to play college tennis,” Mauro said.
Evan Cross can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @EvanCross.