Men put up good fight at USTA Futures tournament
by Eric Raub
Three of Rice's men's tennis players took a shot at the big time when they played in a United States Tennis Association Futures tournament, which began last weekend at Memorial Park and extended into this week.
Sophomore Cody Jackson hits a return in practice Tuesday. Jackson twice rallied for wins after losing the first set to advance to the flight A consolation final at the South Carolina Fall Invitational last weekend.
Freshmen Vuk Rajevac and Richard and William Barker entered the tournament. Richard and William lost in the singles qualifying rounds. Together, the brothers won their first doubles match and played a second on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Rajevac faced off against Cedric Koffman, the 250th-ranked player in the world. Rajevac kept it close in the first set but eventually lost 7-6, 6-1.
"I was really close in the first set of the match," Rajevac said. "I lost the second set pretty bad. He started playing better and I didn't really play that well."
The team has spent the last two weeks split up playing in various tournaments around the country, with some members experiencing more success than others.
They are now gearing up for the most important tournament so far this season, the Region IV tournament which runs from today through Tuesday in Fort Worth.
Two Owls, sophomore Ramez Qamer and junior Rafael Reyes, traveled to the University of Texas at Arlington Fall Invitational two weeks ago. Qamer went undefeated through the weekend.
"It was a good tournament," Qamer said. "It was good to get a match plan prepared for regionals. It got us into a tournament sort of mood before the biggest tournament of the year for us."
Reyes broke even over the weekend but faced strong competition from players like the University of Texas' Joe Morris, who handed Reyes a 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 loss.
Qamer's competition was not as challenging.
"Ramez played pretty well," assistant coach Shaheen Ladhani said. "The competition was really not that stiff. He forced one guy to retire because he was hungry."
Last weekend, Rajevac and sophomore Cody Jackson went to the South Carolina Men's Tennis Fall Invitational in Columbia, S.C.
Jackson and Rajevac, competing in flight A, faced tougher competition than their teammates did in Arlington.
"They both played in the A flight," Smarr said. "It was a pretty good field of mostly [No.] 1 and 2 guys. They played OK. It was a good tournament."
Jackson made it to finals of the consolation draw before being defeated by Brown University's Chris Drake 6-3, 6-1.
In both the semifinal and quarterfinal matches, Jackson rallied from behind to clinch wins.
"Cody lost in the first round," Smarr said. "Then he got two good wins. I like the fact that he came back and played hard. Nothing cures a loss like a good win."
All of the Owls now have their minds set on this weekend's Region IV tournament. This is going to be their toughest tournament yet. It may also be the toughest all year, with the possible exception of the Western Athletic Conference and NCAA tournaments held in the spring.
"This is a big weekend," Smarr said. "Five schools from our region finished in the top 16 last year. Texas is a tough place to play tennis."
All of the Owls are ready to take on their tough in-state competition. Sophomore Matthias Mathaes will return to play this weekend after missing several weeks with a shoulder injury.
Rajevac and the Barker brothers - all freshmen - said they can't wait for their first big college tournament.
"We're really looking forward to it," Richard said. "It's our first big college tournament. We're in the top 16 seeds for doubles, which means we don't play anyone until it's down to the last 16."
Playing with the last 16 doubles teams, while exciting for the Barkers, was made more difficult by their extended play in the USTA tournament. The Barkers had to be driven to Fort Worth separately yesterday so that they could play in today's first-round action.
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