A fall season in which many Minnesota men’s tennis players showed signs of improvement concluded this past weekend when Rok Bonin and Julian Dehn won the doubles championship at the Metlife Lakewood Ranch Intercollegiate Clay Court Classic in Tampa, Fla.
The Gophers were represented in six tournaments that took place all over the country. With the exception of freshman Ben Mirkin, all nine players on the Gopher roster participated in at least three tournaments.
After years of having a relatively young team, Minnesota’s fall roster featured experienced players from top to bottom. Every player that played in a fall tournament was a returnee from last year’s team.
“It was a good fall season,” said head coach Geoff Young. “We have an older team now that’s more experienced filled primarily with juniors and seniors, which is a little bit of a change. I feel like we’ve been saying we have a young team for a while. “
The season began in early October at the Pioneer Invitational in Denver, Colo. Playing in a higher altitude, sophomore Rok Bonin jump-started a successful fall season by winning the event with a perfect 4-0 singles record. On the first day, Bonin began his run by beating New Mexico's Carl Ho and Denver's Fabio Biasion. He then toppled New Mexico's Conor Berg and clinched the title with a 6-3, 6-4 win against Yannick Weihs of Denver.
“It was a little ugly at times,” said Young. “Obviously Rok did manage to win all of his matches there, albeit it was not the prettiest I think he would admit, but to get the win certainly helps the confidence, even when you don’t play your best.”
Minnesota continued play the following weekend, but this time in Massachusetts at the Harvard University hosted Chowder Fest. Bonin improved to a perfect 7-0 in fall play with wins against opponents from South Carolina, Notre Dame and Harvard, but he was not the only Gopher who shined in the tournament.
After beginning the fall season with a 1-3 showing in Denver, fellow sophomore Brendan Ruddock finished with a tidy 3-0 record at the Chowder Fest. He worked very efficiently on all three days of the tournament, winning each match in straight sets. His perfect weekend was part of a 6-1 finish to the fall.
Young praised Ruddock for his strong fall campaign saying, “[He] didn’t get ten wins this fall [like Bonin, Julian Dehn, and Philip Arndt did], but he had a breakout season in my opinion. It was great to see.”
The only player who did not play at the Chowder Fest was senior Tobias Wernet. Wernet did not participate because he went to Tulsa, Okla., to take part in the D'Novo/ITA Men's Division I All-American Tennis Championships that started the following Monday, where he was upset in the first round by Malte Stropp of Mississippi State.
Seventeen days after Wernet’s loss, he and teammates Bonin, Dehn, and back-to-back Team MVP Sebastian Gallego traveled to Norman, Okla. to compete at the ITA Central Region Championships.
All four were in the 64-player single draw and won their opening-round singles matches, but only Wernet won more than one match and his tournament ended in the round of 16. Doubles pairs Gallego and Arndt and Bonin and Wernet each won their first two matches before falling in the quarterfinals.
Minnesota’s squad as a whole would fare even better the next week at the Big Ten Indoor Championships, which was hosted by Michigan State. The story of the weekend was the run made by Dehn. After a shaky 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 first round win against Brian Alden of Illinois in the first round, Dehn stepped up his play.
In the round of 32, he took down No. 12 seed Billy Bertha of Wisconsin 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 before dispatching Josh MacTaggart and Isade Juneau of Indiana in straight sets to land a spot in the semifinals, where his run finally ended against Ohio State’s Peter Kobelt.
Michael Sicora and Brendan Ruddock both advanced to the round of 16 and the duo of Dehn and Ruddock reached the semifinals in doubes. Arndt won the back draw after winning in the first round and losing in the second. His victory against Indiana’s Jeremy Langer clinched the consolation crown.
Minnesota finished the fall playing on clay at the Lakewood Ranch Classic. “A lot of the our guys grew up playing on clay,” said Young. “In some ways, it was very comfortable for them to go back and play on the clay. It was fun.”
Bonin and Dehn had the most fun, earning Minnesota's first doubles title of the fall season.
After receiving a bye in the first round and cruising into the semifinals with an 8-1 win over Miami’s Waylon Chin and Eduardo Pavia, Bonin and Dehn notched tiebreaker wins against Ricky Doverspike and Carlos Taborga of Alabama and Andrew Butz and Michael Alford of Florida to seal the championship.
The win over Butz and Alford was one of redemption for the Gophers, coming on the same day the Florida combo knocked Wernet and Gallego out in the semifinals, preventing an all-Minnesota title match.
Overall, coach Young was satisfied with his team’s progress on the season. “We’ve had some guys make a leap in their game,” he said. “On paper, some of the players had some results that they’re not supposed to have, in a good way.”
The Gophers will mostly focus on off-court conditioning before beginning dual match play in January. They host Marquette at the Baseline Tennis Center on Saturday, Jan. 22 before heading to Los Angeles to play a pair of non-conference matches to begin the spring.