The men’s tennis team started off strong and dominated Connecticut 4-0 on Thursday in the opening round of the American Athletic Conference championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Owls won the first doubles match of the day when junior Santiago Canete and sophomore Vineet Naran won at the second flight with a score of 6-4.
The squad then clinched the doubles point with a 7-5 victory from juniors Nicolas Paulus and Hicham Belkssir.
“The guys were playing with a lot of energy this morning,” Belkssir said. “All of the doubles matches were extremely close and we didn’t come out on top in the one match, but the other two matches went our way. The matches were really tough and we were pumped to get the doubles point.”
Riding that momentum, Temple took all three singles matches to move on to the quarterfinals of the men’s bracket. The Owls received points from Canete 6-1, 7-6(5), Paulus (6-1, 6-4) and Belkssir (6-2, 6-3), who all cruised in straight sets to extend the team’s win streak to four.
“We played well in singles,” Belkssir said. “The court conditions as well as the weather were really good today. We were comfortable outside and we made a lot of balls. We were finishing points better and we were more consistent in our volleys. This is the perfect time to play good tennis.”
Mauro said he was happy for freshman walk-on Stephen Ong, who is now in the lineup in the sixth spot. Mauro said that Ong follows what the coaches tell him to do in practice and he has made an impact on the team.
“[Stephen Ong] didn’t play Connecticut the last time we played them,” Mauro said. “It was good to see him play well. He won the first set and was up in the second set tiebreaker 5-2. He didn’t finish his match because we had already won, but I felt that he would have finished off his match. He has really worked hard this season and he has earned his spot.”
The No. 8-seeded Owls will play in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament Friday at 10 a.m. EST against No. 1 seed South Florida.
“We were pretty confident about our chances going into the match,” Mauro said. “You never want to look past any opponent because on any given day anybody can beat you. Connecticut came out strong in doubles, but then our guys outplayed them in singles to take the match. It is great getting a win in this tough conference.”
Dalton Balthaser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DaltonBalthaser.