Belmont men’s tennis started its 2023 season on a high note with a 5-2 win over Lee University inside the Ensworth Tennis Center on Sunday.
The Bruins look to serve up another successful season after winning the Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship in 2022.
Now in the Horizon League, sophomore Ian Cruz and junior Alfred Wallin both earned singles and doubles victories in Belmont’s opening match.
Hailing from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Cruz loves to catch a “vibe” by listening to pregame music, chilling with teammates and telling jokes before match time.
But the first match is always a challenge, Cruz said.
“In singles, it was kind of tough because it was our first match of the season, so we were trying to get into a rhythm out there,” he said.
With 6-1 and 6-2 set wins in his singles match, it didn’t take long for Cruz to find out what works for him.
Alongside junior Tomas Luis, Cruz helped bring home the doubles point for Belmont.
“We played against a good team. They put us in uncomfortable positions all the time in the match,” Cruz said. “We played very good in doubles I think.”
Cruz’s favorite thing is competing, he said. It’s all about the adrenaline rush when he’s out there on the court.
There’s no question Cruz is “very excited” for the season ahead after the Bruins’ opening match.
A Malmo, Sweden native, Wallin usually takes him some time to warm up.
The season’s opening match is always a challenge, he said.
“The first match for me is usually the toughest one, because I am a player who needs to play a lot of matches to get in the rhythm,” Wallin said.
Alongside senior Jack Randall in doubles, Wallin quickly got his feet under him.
“I’d say we have good chemistry; everyone gets along well. We have a lot of different options for who should play with who in doubles, but our coach ultimately decides,” Wallin said.
Earning a convincing 6-1 win, the tandem helped the Bruins secure the doubles point.
Moving to singles, Wallin secured a match victory with set wins of 7-6 and 6-4.
“For me it was a tough match, my opponent was very, very solid, and didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Wallin said. “I didn’t play my best, but it was a good match overall.”
A Common Idol
Cruz and Wallin’s favorite tennis player is no secret.
He has 20 Grand Slam singles titles and he’s the best in their eyes.
“When I learned to play tennis, he was my idol, he just plays so beautifully,” Cruz said. “He’s everything, just a family guy and a perfect role model.”
Wallin echoes much of the same.
“I always say Roger for sure. He plays so clean and he’s so talented,” Wallin said. “It's just so beautiful and obviously so is his good sportsmanship on the court, he has definitely been a role model since the first day that I started playing tennis.”
After 10 seasons in the OVC, the Bruins made the switch to the Horizon League because the Missouri Valley Conference does not charter men’s tennis.
In a preseason poll announced by the league office, Belmont was tabbed as the favorite to win the conference in its first year.
“The first goal is always to win the conference,” Cruz said.
Wallin has a similar mindset, but he isn’t buying into all the hype.
He’s eager to prove it.
“That's obviously fun and cool. Obviously, we have to show it as well, that is on paper,” Wallin said. “We actually have to be ready and show up when it actually comes to it.”
“We have a good team on every single spot. Everyone is good. Everyone is practicing hard and working hard. So, I'm really looking forward to this season,” Wallin added. This article was written by Landen Secrest.