Eemaun Latifi gets ready to return the ball. (Brad Hoiseth)
The Saddleback College men’s tennis team suffered a hard-fought defeat at the hands of the Cerritos College Falcons 7-2 in the Gauchos’ home opener last Thursday.
Head Coach Bud Davis, in his second year manning the helm, described the team as young and inexperienced at the college level. But, despite the youthful make-up of the team, he is looking ahead to good things.
“This year, we have 11 or 12 guys that can really play. I’m looking forward to seeing their grittiness, their competitive nature, and to see how they compete.” Davis said.
That competitive nature was on display in the first set of each of the singles matches, as all six were very close throughout. Unfortunately, that inexperience reared its ugly head as only Travis McClellan came out victorious, defeating Nick Johnson of Cerritos 7-6, 6-1 in the No. 4 slot for Saddleback.
One of the Gauchos who does have experience is their No. 1, Eemaun Latifi, who tangled with the Falcon’s equivalent, Derek Siddiqui. They are ranked No. 22 and No. 1 respectively in the Southern section.
The match was neck and neck throughout the first set as Latifi used a mostly baseline attack, featuring many flawlessly executed shots high and to Siddiqui’s backhand. However, the lanky and athletic Saddiqui adjusted nicely in the second set by getting around on Latifi’s strategic shots, turning many of them into forehand winners of his own. Saddiqui, who lost in the state semifinals last year took the match 6-4, 6-0.
“He’s tough, because he doesn’t make many unforced errors,” Latifi said. “But that’s to be expected from a returning player who was fourth in the state last year.
Perhaps no two players showed their gritty nature more than two Saddleback newcomers, Sina Sharifi-Hosseini, and Austen Ward who play in the No. 5 and No. 6 slots for Saddleback.
For his part, Sharifi-Hosseini battled through the only match to go 3 sets, losing to Kyle Porter 6-3, 2-6, 7-5.
“Many times, these matches come down to how the 5 and 6 slots fair,” Davis said. “Those two really showed what this team is all about. Ward’s match was particularly brutal.”
Ward at one point in the second set, required medical attention due to a strained muscle in his right leg. Although the Gauchos’ freshman lost in a match lasting more than three hours, he showed that he will continue to compete even under difficult circumstances. He fought on, but finally lost 6-4, 6-4.
The Gauchos’ only other point in the contest came in the No. 3 doubles match when the tandem of Travis McClellen and Jake Barnard came out victorious 9-7.
Saddleback now looks to secure its first victory of the year when they travel to Pierce Feb. 1, at 2 p.m.