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ASU men's tennis team's spot in the rankings indicative of their positive season

At 13-7, the Sun Devils have had a strong year — but improvements are necessary to get them to the next level


ASU senior Jacob Bullard hitting the ball during a match against Stanford at Whiteman Tennis Center on Friday, March 29, 2024 in Tempe. ASU lost 0-4.

It is a difficult task to become a top 25 team in the country like the ASU men's tennis team, but maintaining that level of play over the course of a season is even more difficult. The Sun Devils, however, welcomed this challenge and have done so through the tribulations that come with being an elite program. 

After a promising start to the season was derailed by three straight losses, the Sun Devils have turned things around, going 8-2 over their last 10 games with four wins over ranked opponents. 

Despite its record, ASU is still looking for ways to improve. One point of emphasis has been the commitment to a strategy during clutch situations.

"The execution will go up as you commit to what you're wanting and trying to do," head coach Matt Hill said after a 4-0 loss to No.18 Stanford. "If there's a little bit of hesitancy in that game plan at that moment against a team of this caliber, it's going to get you."

Hill pointed out the numerous times ASU had chances to pull ahead, including when the doubles pair of Daniel Phillips and Nicola Cigna were broken when serving for the set and when No. 3 singles Jacob Bullard lost a second-set tiebreak after having a 5-4 advantage.

The story of the season so far has been about these margins. Against top-tier competition, the Sun Devils have been inconsistent at times. They have big wins over Michigan and UCLA, but close losses to Stanford, UCSD and Michigan State. For ASU to make a deep run, they need to tighten the screws in big matchups. 

The team's leaders have stepped up when they needed to. With freshman Bor Artnak out, senior Max McKennon moved to singles and was up 4-2 in the deciding set against No. 44 Samir Banerjee. Junior Murphy Cassone was leading No. 25 Nishesh Basavareddy by a set and was up 6-5 in the second. 

Although college tennis is scored in a team context, the points are still based on individual outcomes. Cassone, the No. 8 player in the country, understands that his reputation as one of the best players in Division I tennis comes with a price.

"I feel like I've always had that target on my back, and all the guys are trying to hunt me down and take my ranking points," Cassone said. "I'm the one that's going after them and trying to take it to them. I want to win NCAAs this year. I can't do that playing scared."

The team's defeat against Stanford can be a learning experience. Without Artnak, currently No. 97 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, players were forced up a spot, and although the results were not what they wanted, playing better competition can only improve everyone's play.

Off the court, the upperclassmen's leadership has also manifested itself into a positive team culture, uplifting teammates and cheering them on constantly.

"All my teammates were supporting me with a lot of energy. They were screaming 'Paraguay, Paraguay,' and I was laughing," freshman Martin Vergara del Puerto said earlier this year. "It was an unbelievable moment with all my teammates and coaches."

At 13-7 and No. 21 in the ITA rankings, the Sun Devils are still in a strong position to make a run in the Pac-12 tournament, which is just four games away. A big matchup against interstate rival No. 9 Arizona on April 7 could be a litmus test for ASU and a chance for the team to really see what they are capable of.

The Sun Devils have endured an up-and-down season, but the team's belief in itself hasn't wavered, and the Pac-12 tournament gives them exactly what they want: an opportunity to prove themselves.

Edited Alfred Smith III, Sadie Buggle and Caera Learmonth.

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