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UW men’s tennis debuts its fall season with a new narrative

UW men’s tennis debuts its fall season with a new narrative

Cesar Bouchelaghem returning a ball during Washington's game against Arizona on April 17 at the Bill Quillian Tennis Stadium. The Huskies have opened their new season under first-year head coach Rahim Esmail. 

For the first time in 28 years, the Washington men’s tennis team has started its fall season with a new head coach calling the shots.

The Huskies had one of their best seasons yet in 2021-22, where former head coach Matt Anger clinched the final 18 wins of his total 428 at UW. These 428 wins earned him the title of the winningest head coach in Washington history.

Soon after Anger’s retirement was announced, Rahim Esmail, who served as an assistant coach last spring on Anger’s staff, was named head coach. Esmail spent his first season at UW in good company, and is now faced with the tall task of filling the shoes that Anger left behind. 

“We have had a lot of new faces this year, including myself, the assistant coach, and some freshmen,” Esmail said. “It has been a transition period for everyone, but it’s been fun to see some of the guys who were here last year jump on board with what we are trying to implement.” 

These new coaches are being paired with relatively newer athletes to the program, as well. 

“We have a very young team,” Esmail said. “We graduated three of our athletes, and those three guys played in our top three. We may not have as much experience, but it is a cool place to be when you are trying to build.”

The season kicked off Thursday, Oct. 6 with Esmail leading the way as the Huskies traveled to compete in the ITA Northwest Regionals.

This event is played as a tournament style, with the winners advancing to the next round, and those who lost their matches to play in a constellation bracket. Junior Han-Chih Lin advanced the furthest, with three consecutive single match wins to advance to the semifinals.

Despite Lin’s momentum, the remaining matches were not contested past Saturday, Oct. 8, for the players were moved to compete at the ITA Super Regionals.

“We leave Thursday for Super Regionals,” Esmail said. “The Northwest Regionals can be looked at as a qualifying event for these Super Regionals.”

The super regionals will consist of the top 32 players in each region. Of these players, 22 get directly in based on their rankings and the rest have to qualify in.

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UW will be sending sophomores Cesar Bouchelaghem, Nedim Suko, and Dzianis Zharyn, alongside Lin, to compete in California. 

The last time Washington  competed at Stanford was in April 2022, in which the Huskies were shut down in a 4-1 match loss.

Current players, such as Lin and Bouchelaghem, were defeated in both their doubles and singles matches.

The Cardinal may have posed a challenge for the Huskies last spring, but they did as well in this exact event last fall, when Washington played host to the ITA Super Regionals.

Former UW player, Clement Chidekh, and Suko were doubles partners at this event. The two were knocked out of the semifinals in two straight set losses by Stanford's respective pair.

Stanford also managed to dominate the singles event, where the No. 1 ranked player at the time, Arthur Fery from Stanford, defeated Washington’s No. 2 ranked player, Chidekh, in the finals of the singles draw.

Needless to say, UW has ground to cover as it travels to the Bay Area to take on Stanford and its other regional competitors. 

“We are not the most talented team out there, and we are not going to be the most talented team out there,” Esmail said. “But whoever comes up against the Huskies, we want them to think we are really tough to compete against, we want to be a hardworking blue-collared team.”

The tournament will begin on Friday, Oct. 21 at Stanford and will be played throughout the weekend.

Reach reporter Tess Kadian at Twitter: @TKadian21

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