|Cirstea, Akbar on to Nationals|
The Idaho men's tennis team is sending a doubles pairing to the ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships for the second year in a row. But in 2012, coach Jeff Beaman and seniors Marius Cirstea and Abid Akbar expected to get there, and aren't satisfied with just being one of 20 doubles pairings in the country to advance to the National Championships at the Billy Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y.
"Last year I knew we had potential, but it was a bit of a shock to make it," Beaman admitted, as Cirstea teamed up with Andrew Dobbs to win the Mountain Regional doubles draw in 2011. "We had a great run with two guys who really clicked on court with their personalities, with their effort. This year it was a set goal. Our goal this year was having Abid and Marius playing together and winning the regional, going to nationals having one of the top doubles teams."
The 20-team doubles draw includes the regional champions from each of the 12 ITA regions, the two ITA All-American finalists, the ITA All-American consolation champion, ITA Small College Champion, one host wild card, one USTA wild card and two at-large pairings. The tournament runs Nov. 8-11. 2011 marked the first time Idaho was represented at the National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.
"After the experience last year we not only know the level but we know what we need to do in terms of how to play," Beaman said. "It's great to make it and it's great to make it back a second time. Now (the goal is) to go there and really show that we are nationally competitive with the top programs in the country."
After being there once before, Cirstea knows the demands of the National Championship tournament, and likes the potential he and Akbar have heading in.
"I know how I play doubles," Cirstea said. "I don't know how good I am in singles but in doubles I know I can hit really hard, I can put pressure on opponents. This year I have Abid next to me who also serves very well, he is active at the net, he is tall so he can cover a lot of court. I kind of knew that if he trusts me a little bit, we can beat anybody in this region. I personally know how it is there, what type of players we're going to play and how good they are. We are better than them and we can actually compete."
Despite heading to the National Championships for the first time, Akbar is confident going in and likes the style he and Cirstea play.
"Jeff has worked with me a lot at the net in getting quicker," Akbar said. "I'm more confident now than I was before. If I can put some decent serves in, Marius has enough in him to take care of the rest. It gives him easy opportunities to put some balls away. We're a good team because both of us have good serves. If you get good serves in and your partner at the net takes care of the rest that really helps us."
While nobody within the program is surprised the duo won the Mountain Regional to earn a berth in the Indoor Intercollegiate National Championships, Cirstea and Akbar were nearly eliminated in the semifinals before mounting a comeback against a pairing from New Mexico.
"I had confidence that we had a shot," Beaman said of his expectations of Cirstea and Akbar heading into the regional. "When you're playing at that level it depends. We were very close to losing to UNM, and we were down against other teams. When you're playing at that level you've got to have everything working, you've got to be healthy. I was confident that we were going to compete but definitely wasn't sure we were going to win."
Cirstea added: "Against UNM we came back from down 7-4, we were just one game away from losing in the quarterfinals. That shows that we are willing to go the extra mile to win the match, and hopefully we'll do it again in nationals."
After losing their first match in the opening round and in the consolation last year, the Idaho duo has some unfinished business at the National Championships in 2012. Beaman thinks the aggressive, fast-paced style the pairing brings will be tough on their competitors.
"They both are serving extremely well," Beaman said. "When these guys are serving at basically a professional level, it's hard to break serve. Both guys are serving at over 120 miles per hour. They're both active, they're both confident and they both hit the ball extremely hard. That's rare to get. It's like baseball, when you're throwing it 103 miles per hour it's hard to hit. We have two guys that are bringing it as hard as anyone in the country."
The first two rounds of the tournament will be played Nov. 8, with the quarterfinals matches being played Nov. 9, the semifinals on Nov. 10 and the finals on Nov. 11. Draws for the event will be released at a later date.