Seattle, Wash. - With their most inspired performance of the year, the explosive doubles tandem of junior Robert Dula and freshman Victor Pereira gave the Eastern Washington University men's tennis team its best ITA Northwest Regionals finish in program history.
The regionals, hosted by the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash., began Thursday, Oct. 22nd, and lasted until Monday, Oct. 26th. The tournament consisted of a massive singles and doubles field, both of which the Eagles competed in.
Before reaching the quarterfinals of the doubles draw, the pairing of Dula and Pereira proved a force to be reckoned with on the court. They continued to make names for themselves in a trio of intense matches that impressed coaches and spectators alike. Starting off their run was a match against the Seattle duo of Matt Alderson and Connor Leahy that gave the two Eagles a close 8-6 victory. Their second-round opponents were the Portland combo of Alex Wallace and Michail Pervolarakis, where the match also finished with a close score of 8-5 in favor of Dula and Pereira. With momentum propelling them forward, the Eastern Washington duo made a powerful statement taking down their St. Mary's counterparts, Thomas Hunt and James Markiewicz, in a commanding 8-2 win.
All of this brought them to their biggest match. Facing off against the No. 2 seeds out of San Francisco, Nils Skajaa and Vasco Valverde, they battled back in a match that included multiple sudden deaths. The match began with a sudden death point to break the USF tandem, but fell short. The teams exchanged hold at 2-2, but the landscape of the battle changed after a fluke serve by Dula broke a string on his racket on a sudden death point, second serve, and halted the Eagles' momentum. They swiftly dropped down to 7-2, teetering on the brink of defeat, but with an inspired comeback, they brought the score back to 7-5 before falling short on one final sudden death point. The loss, however; was not without its upside, as it, along with Dula's singles run, marked the best ITA regionals showing by EWU players.
Moving into the singles portion of the tournament, its clear the doubles field was not the only place Dula left a mark. Leading the team, he pushed his way into the third round of the singles draw with a series of outstanding matches against tough competition. It all began with his first round matchup against the 6'6", power serving Jordan Smith, from the University of California. In his first Pac-12 win, Dula didn't hesitate to strike first, winning the opening set in dominant fashion, 6-1, and then finishing it off with a final set of 6-2.
In the second round, before he faced him in doubles, Dula took down the #17 seed Skajaa. Coach Steve Clark described the feel of the match best, "In his second match there were eight momentum changes (series of 3 points or more in a row) and eight sudden death points. Whew. That is enough to rivet any spectator and give a coach grey hairs. The points were routinely 20 shots long and they were pounding, attacking, and chasing balls down." Refusing to quit, Dula battled through many back and forth exchanges and sealed the match with some great final-game services, taking the victory 7-5, 6-3. The final match came against his most formidable opponent, the No. 5 seed David Hsu from Stanford. Despite Dula's consistent performance throughout the tournament, his efforts were just not enough to overcome the top level competitor, as he finished his historic run falling 6-2, 6-4.
The entire team also competed in the singles draw with Coach Clark specifically highlighting junior Wacil Bendjelti's round one performance saying, "Wacil played one of the best matches tactically I have seen him play. He is realizing his game style and using his shots to the fullest." Although he lost 6-3, 6-0, the score did not do the match justice. The games remained close with many sudden death points deciding them. "He will learn from the mistakes and play under pressure better in the future I am sure as he learns from this match", Clark added.
Contributing wins in the backdraw were junior Luke Ness, senior Eduardo Bringold, junior Rendell Burghart, and Bendjelti. Overall, valuable experience was gained, and the team will move forward looking to their next tournament, the Bulldog Classic, hosted by Gonzaga. It begins Friday, October 30th, and continues into November, ending Sunday the 1st. This will mark the final tournament of the fall season and the 2015 year for the men's team.