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Mid-season review: Men’s tennis

By Tony McDaniel

Saluki tennis is on a roll and will look to keep rolling into conference play and the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

The Salukis’ spring record currently stands at 7-5, but the team has won seven of its last eight matches dating back to Feb. 1. A large part of the Salukis’ success has come from the team’s three freshmen, Jeremy Dixon, Filip Aleksic and Michal Kianicka, who are a combined 16-8 in the spring season.

Coach Dann Nelson said the production from the three freshmen comes at little surprise.

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“Mike and Filip were among the 14th ranked mid-major recruiting class from tennisrecruiting.net so we expected some big things out of them,” Nelson said. “When Jeremy joined, us I didn’t know what to think, but he has already secured a spot at three doubles, so all three of them are contributing.”

Kianicka is not only contributing, but also leading with his play on the court. Kianicka is the No. 2 singles player on the team, and his 8-3 record is second best on the team behind Sophomore Jonny Rigby who is 9-2.

Kianicka said despite his stellar play, he still has plenty he wants to improve.

“I want to keep a higher standard to hold a match. Sometimes I lost impatiently one or two games against opponents I shouldn’t [have lost to],” he said. “I’m working on it and hopefully by conference play I will be ready.”

Another area where the Salukis have been impressive has been their work in doubles action this season. The Dawgs have gotten strong performances from their top two duos this season. Nelson said it is important for a team’s confidence to win the doubles point.

“The way we look at it is ‘lets get that doubles point and then get up big in our first set in singles,’ he said. “It really helps us… We really feed off of winning the doubles point.”

The team of juniors Jorge Cavero and Szymon Opieczonek has been particularly impressive this season.

Cavero and Opieczonek have been dominant in doubles play this season. Their record currently stands at 8-3 and they’ve won eight of their last nine matches. Opieczonek said he and Cavero have strong chemistry as a pair.

“As soon as I started playing with Jorge, I felt like I need to be playing with him,” Opieczonek said. “I understand him. I don’t even have to talk to him, we already know what we’re going to do for the next point. We don’t really waste much time talking to each other. We understand each other pretty well.”

Nelson said Opieczonek is in a group which contains his most improved players this season.

“Szymon is right up there. Filip [Aleksic] has improved based on his performance in the fall to what he’s done this semester, and I don’t know how you leave out Jonny Rigby who is 9-2 this semester,” Nelson said. “Everybody is improving so I’m very happy with that.”

The Salukis are coming to the end of their season, but now begin their toughest stretch of games yet.

This weekend, SIU will travel to Middle Tennessee State University for a three-day tournament, followed by five matches against tough MVC opponents such as Drake University, and defending champions Wichita State University.

Nelson said it is hard to judge how well his team will handle the upcoming conference schedule.

“The thing we have to do is take our young group in to the conference season,” Nelson said. “These guys haven’t been there yet, the upperclassmen can tell them what it’s like and that these are big matches, things like that, but they wont know until they experience it for themselves the first time.”

Nelson said it would be a challenge for his team to be crowned conference champions.

“To be honest, it might be pretty tough for us to win the MVC tournament, but let’s see how we do in the regular season,” Nelson said. “The good thing about the tournament is if you get hot, maybe you can make a run.”

Tony McDaniel can be reached at [email protected], @tonymcdanielDE or at 536-3311 ext. 282

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