The Salukis dominated their weekend match against McKendree and Western Illinois Universities and won 6-1 both Saturday and Sunday.
The victories mark the team’s first wins at home this season. Coach Dann Nelson said it felt great to play and win in front of the home crowd for the first time in a month.
“Playing at home is wonderful,” he said. You definitely don’t have that six- or eight-hour drive the day before you are supposed to play. You have familiar surroundings, you get to sleep in your own bed, and you have friends and family that get to come out and see you play.”
Despite the the squad’s near sweep, SIU started slow in its No. 1 matchup, which paired SIU senior Brandon Florez against McKendree’s senior Gabor Toth. The weekend’s first match went back-and-forth, but Toth claimed it 6-7, 7-5 and 6-2.
Florez said his conditioning was the reason for the loss.
“He was a really good player, but it was one of the first times I can remember in recent years where I really felt physically not capable,” he said. “I was able to fight and take it to three sets, but in the third set I couldn’t even walk because my legs were cramping. It was one of the weirdest things that I have experienced.”
Florez said he was unsure of the reason for his lack of strength. He said a workout session and a phone call from Nelson helped him succeed Sunday.
Florez’s loss was the Salukis’ only one on the day, as they went on to win the No. 2-5 matchups including Saluki senior Badr Cherradi, who claimed the No. 3 matchup 6-4 and 6-1. This win was only the beginning of a dominant weekend for Cherradi, as he and doubles partner freshman Jonny Rigby claimed the match against Bearcat senior duo Fabio Tsuchiya and Barnabas Toth.
Rigby said he has a great deal of trust in his partner.
“You always know what to expect with (Cherradi),” he said. “It’s incredible to play with him because I know that as long as I do my part he is going to be there, and we are more than likely going to win the game.”
Cherradi took his hot hand into Sunday’s matchup against Western Illinois sophomore Mitch Granger and swept him 6-0, 6-0. Granger was ranked No. 17 on the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s singles preseason ranking.
Cherradi and Rigby paired again Sunday and nearly swept in doubles play as they won 8-1 against WIU junior Ben Yue and sophomore Chris Bunch.
Rigby continued his success Sunday with his 6-4, 6-2 win over Leatherneck sophomore Chris Bunch.
Florez also played a better game Sunday as he took the matchup against Western Illinois’ No. 1 player Bradley Holt 7-6 (7-5), 6-2.
Florez said it was a big confidence boost to clench the win Sunday.
“I thought it was big to turn it around,” he said. “It was a bigger thing for me to not get frustrated with that first loss and let it affect me on Sunday. It was nice to get over that even though it was a one-match thing.”
The Salukis’ only loss Sunday came from junior Rafael Cuadrillero in a tightly contested 6-4, 6-3 fall to WIU freshman Max Cederhall.
The weekend wins improve the Salukis to 4-2 on the short season, which ranks them third in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Nelson said he is impressed with his team’s start to the season.
“I would say we don’t have a bad loss yet,” he said. “Right now we are 4-2, and our losses are to Wisconsin, who is ranked (No.75), and University of Memphis, who is ranked (No. 31) in the country. It shows that we can play with almost anybody.”
The Salukis will continue their home stand Friday against Eastern Illinois in a 3p.m. start.