Tennis splits forces — Akbar, Cirstea to play in prestigious Baylor Invitational
The Baylor-HEB Invitational and Eastern Washington Invitational will both be held this weekend, and the Vandal men’s tennis team will be represented at both in their first competitions of the season.
“Baylor, it’s a chance to see how we do against the best competition in the country,” Idaho coach Jeff Beaman said. “Eastern, its good level regional competition for our guys that aren’t coming back as our top players.”
With Baylor being such a high-level tournament, Beaman will only take two players, seniors Marius Cirstea and Abid Akbar, the Vandals’ No. 1 and No. 2 players from last year.
“They are both seniors, they played one-two last year, it gives them their shot to start the year off seeing how they do against the very best players in the country,” Beaman said.
Cirstea has been to Baylor before and upset the No. 15 ranked singles player in the country.
“Every time, I play really well there. I don’t know why exactly, I feel just really well there and play really good,” Cirstea said.
Several Vandals had big wins that weekend and Cirstea has had two more years of college experience since then, saying he’s curious to see how he fares this year.
This tournament is packed full of top teams such as Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, TCU and others. Not to mention the Baylor Bears, who have been to 14 straight NCAA Championships.
Akbar is aware of the high level of competition.
“It’s going to be a tough tournament, not going to have any easy matches, there is going to be tough conditions, pretty hot,” Akbar said. “It’s going to be challenging and it’s going to be fun playing against some good competition at the start of the year.”
Cirstea and Akbar will play singles and as a doubles pair at the tournament. Cirstea and Andrew Dobbs won regionals as a pairing last season and advanced to nationals. Akbar has also paired with Dobbs over the course of two years and had a great record.
“I think they are a team that if they click, they can be a top nationally ranked team,” Beaman said.
Cirstea thinks they have a good chance of at least winning regionals this year, and they are definitely shooting for it. He said Akbar had some great results last year and looks even better this year.
“His serve is really good this year, like I was actually shocked when I saw him, and his volleys are really good and he moves good at the net,” Cirstea said.
Akbar appreciates Cirstea’s talent as well, and knows he has big shoes to fill following the impressive results Dobbs and Cirstea had last season.
While Akbar and Cirstea are playing in the hot Texas sun, the rest of the Vandals will be at the Eastern Washington Invitational in Cheney, Wash. This tournament may not have the nationally ranked teams that Baylor will have, but Beaman says they will still see a lot of great players there. He is expecting good results.
“I think we should have guys in the semis, guys in the finals and guys winning flights, but it’s also the first competition of the year so it’ll be a good barometer,” Beaman said.
He said they have the talent to have players in both doubles’ finals. Akbar likes the Vandals chances as well.
“I think they will do pretty well — most of them are pretty experienced now — and we have done pretty good in the last few years against other teams that are going to be there,” Akbar said.
Both men’s tournaments start Friday and end Sunday.
Charles Crowley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org