Men’s tennis faces stiff competition following San Diego Invitational

Scott Houtkin, Staff Reporter

Luka Petrovic gets ready to hit his serve. (Tulane Athletics)

After a six-match winning streak, the Tulane men’s tennis team failed to capitalize on their success in the Ed Collins Spring Classic. With a bit of a letdown at the Classic, the team faced pressure to get back on track on their upcoming two-match road trip in Oklahoma, with conference foe Tulsa University and No. 36 Oklahoma State University on the horizon.

Tulane started the road trip on March 24 against a gritty American Athletic Conference opponent. Tulsa, a tough veteran team led by seniors Kody Pearson and Stefan Hampe, has had a solid season, despite a 7-10. Tulsa is still ranked No. 57 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings. Tulsa made a valiant effort, but Tulane was able to grind out a tough 4-2 victory behind a great play from Fynn Kuenkler and huge wins from junior Billy Suarez and sophomore Luc Hoeijmans.

Fynn Kuenkler, a junior from Bielefeld, Germany, fought against the No. 28 Kody Pearson, through three sets, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 1-2, but the match was unfinished. Kuenkler is currently the highest ranked — and only ranked player — on Tulane at No. 114. After an illustrious career in Germany, he has made a name for himself at Tulane. Tasked with playing first singles this season, Kuenkler is holding his own against the best players in the country. Although his 5-9 singles record this season is not exactly awe-inspiring, Kuenkler’s ability to battle against elite competition has been the key to the Wave’s success.

Billy Suarez, a junior from New York, dominated Tulsa’s Volodymyr Zakharov in straight sets 6-4, 6-2. The former five-star recruit in the 2020 graduating high school class has been playing great tennis this season, with a 7-5 singles record in his third season with the Wave. Suarez dealt with a shoulder injury as a sophomore, resulting in a frustrating singles record of just 2-4, but he’s worked his way back into the lineup this season and has stepped up in a big way.

Luc Hoeijmans, a sophomore from Zurich, Switzerland, came out on top with a hard-fought victory against Tulsa’s Adham Gaber in three sets, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. Hoeijmans remained solid even after a disappointing second set, finding his footing and finishing strong to secure a critical win for Tulane. The promising sophomore — who has an 8-8 record thus far — has had a major improvement from his 6-13 record last season. 

After a crucial win in Tulsa, the Green Wave came up just short, losing 4-3 against a strong No. 36 Oklahoma State Cowboys team. Oklahoma State has been a force all season with a record of 12-6 in the competitive Big 12 conference. Led by huge victories from senior Tyler Zink and fifth-year senior Chase Ferguson, Oklahoma State was too much for a Tulane team that had played five consecutive road matches over the past nine days. Even with the disappointment of coming up just short, there were a lot of positives to be taken away from the match versus Oklahoma State. Luka Petrovic and Alex Bancila both won their respective matches to keep it tight with the Cowboys.

Luka Petrovic, a sophomore from London, England, took care of business against Oklahoma State’s Isaac Becroft, 6-4, 6-4. Petrovic has been on a tear this season with a singles record of 9-5 and has become one of the most relied-upon players on the team. Much of Tulane’s success this season, with an 11-8 record overall and a top 50 ranking, is due to the emergence of Petrovic.

Alex Bancila, a junior from Hudson, Ohio, took a decisive victory over Oklahoma State’s Francisco Pini in straight sets, 6-4, 6-0. After a frustrating season for Bancila as a sophomore in 2021-22, where he finished 5-14 in singles matches, he has completely turned it around in his junior season. Bancila has become a leader for this Tulane team, as his much improved 10-5 singles record has set the tone for Tulane’s big season.

Even after a disheartening loss to Oklahoma State, Tulane has much to encourage them as they enter the final stretch of the regular season before heading to Orlando to play in the AAC Conference tournament. The Wave’s top players have dominated all season with a combined singles record of 37-22. If Tulane can continue to have that level of success from its top contributors, then they can make a deep run in the AAC tournament and potentially in the NCAA tournament as well.

The Green Wave men’s tennis team continues their season on Saturday, April 1, against Southern Methodist University on the road in Tampa, Florida. 

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