WALLA WALLA — The Whitman College men’s tennis team served up a season-opening triumph with a tightly-contested 5-4 victory over NAIA powerhouse Lewis-Clark State Friday afternoon in the Bratton Tennis Center.
Whitman, ranked No. 26 nationally in NCAA Division III, got off to a good start by taking all three matches in doubles, although it needed a tie-breaker to settle two of those decisions.
Senior Matt Solomon later finished off a three-set marathon victory at No. 1 singles to score the clinching fifth team point, extending Whitman’s lead to an insurmountable 5-3. Solomon outlasted Zhia Hwa Chong, a sophomore from Kuching, Malaysia, 6-2, 6-7, 6-4.
Down a service break in the third set, and with his right arm and hand starting to cramp, Solomon rallied to win the final three games to pull out the match-clinching victory.
"Matt showed great fortitude after a short trainer break," Whitman coach Jeff Northam said. "Instead of playing long, grueling baseline points, he started taking chances and shortening the points. What a great way for Matt to start off the year."
The loss dropped the Warriors, who finished last season with a No. 20 NAIA ranking, to 1-2 on the season.
With Whitman up 3-0 after doubles, Lewis-Clark State closed the gap to 3-2 by claiming the first two decisions in singles.
Ivan Krijanto downed Whitman freshman Jeffrey Tolman 6-1, 6-3 at No. 2 singles, and Ben Robert rallied for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Missionary junior Chris Bailey at No. 3.
Senior Christoph Fuchs then stopped the bleeding for Whitman at No. 4, boosting the Missionary team lead to 4-2 with a 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Oliver Sindayigaya.
"Christoph has been playing great tennis the past few weeks," Northam said. "It was so gratifying to see him bounce back after a quick first-set loss to take the next two sets."
Two singles matches were still in progress when Solomon notched the match-deciding point.
At No. 5 singles, Whitman senior Nadeem Kassam was down a set and trailing 5-1 in the second when he rallied to force a third set, which was played as a 10-point tie-breaker. Arslan Mermut escaped with 6-4, 6-7, 10-8 victory.
Playing at No. 6 singles, senior Jake Cappel won his first set 6-4 and was ahead 3-0 in the second when Solomon’s match finished. Cappel’s opponent, Cesar Uauy rallied to win the second set 6-4 before surviving a 14-12 third-set tie-breaker.
In doubles, Cappel and senior Jasper Follows tallied Whitman’s first team point with an 8-4 triumph at No. 3.
At No. 1 doubles, Solomon and Tolman prevailed 9-8 (7-4), outlasting Krijanto and Chong. At No. 2, Fuchs and junior Quin Miller posted a 9-8 (7-5) victory over Uauy and Robert.
"First matches of the year are always scary, and this one proved to be no different," Northam said.
"We knew it would be a battle, but who knew it would be a 5-4 match with five three-setters. I’m very proud of the effort and maturity the team showed tonight. It is a very good win to start the season."