Seniors for men’s tennis reflect as season winds down


Senior Santtu Leskinen makes a strong hit against Eastern Tennessee State University.

Assistant Sports Editor: Noah Thomas

Depending on who is asked, the theory of home court advantage may either be adamantly supported or skeptically shot down. For key members of UNC Wilmington’s men’s tennis team, the advantage of playing at home has been a difference maker over the last four years.

The No. 69 Seahawks hosted No. 52 Eastern Tennessee State University last weekend on April 3 in their final home series of 2016. Despite being undefeated at home up to that point, the 9-7 Seahawks fell in a 4-1 loss to the Buccaneers.

“I think the other team played really well,” said senior Christiaan Van der Burgh. “We had a couple of opportunities in the beginning, I think the emotions of playing in our last home match got to us a little bit then and we just fell behind and never got back into it.”

Van der Burgh, alongside freshman Aviv Ben Shabat, fell 6-1 in doubles play to David Biosca and Rogerio Ribeiro, the No. 55 ranked duo in the nation.

UNCW senior Santtu Leskinen, ranked No. 112 in the nation, fell in both singles and doubles to ETSU. He talked about his doubles match afterwards.

“I don’t know if anything went specifically wrong,” said Leskinen. “We were doing the good things playing in the clincher and it was getting down to a couple of points. I’ve got to give credit to ETSU. They played okay, and in the end they played some aggressive tennis.”

Leskinen and Van der Burgh have combined for a 38-3 record at home over the course of their careers, showing that playing at home can make a difference if one is more comfortable in a specific setting.

“I just think everyone is so comfortable here,” said Leskinen. “You get a little bit of extra wind that other teams usually struggle with, and I think that’s just one of the little things that make us play better at home. The courts are set up a little differently, and we’re just used to playing here.”

Van der Burgh echoed Leskinen’s sentiment. The South African native credited UNCW’s dynamic coastal climate as a reason visiting teams may be taken out of their comfort zone during matches.

“I think we’ve just enjoyed playing at home and enjoyed the conditions,” said Van der Burgh. “It’s kind of different here in Wilmington—sometimes it’s windy, sometimes it’s cold. We’re used to playing on these kinds of courts… it’s what makes us so comfortable and we love playing here, so I think that’s what contributes to the good record so far.”

The two went into their final stretch of regular season matches over the weekend with a little extra emotion ready to be tapped as their careers came to a close on the road.

“You don’t really start to realize it before,” said Leskinen, commenting on how it felt to know how close the end had neared. “When it actually comes to an end, let’s say senior day was one of those moments, you realize that was actually the last match you’re ever going to play here. I think it’s going to be a little emotional… it’s going to be a little different than any other match, but I think that’s the positive—everyone’s going to be playing not just for the team, but for us as well.”

On the flip side of things, redshirt freshman Josh Hublitz is just getting started in his career as a Seahawk after spending his true freshman year as a spectator. He went 1-1 against ETSU last Sunday, winning in doubles alongside fellow freshman Agustin Savarino, 6-2. He lost his singles match, 6-4, 6-4.

“I think we had a lot of momentum from Saturday’s match,” said Hublitz. “We knew what game style we wanted to play—being aggressive, making returns, [focusing] on first serve percentage. We just had a lot of momentum and energy and just kept it going.”

Hublitz’s first year in action has been an exciting one. Being a part of the team has made this a memorable year.

“It’s been nice,” said Hublitz. “Last year was pretty painful, sitting on the bench, but this year’s been great. I really love the competition and I’m just glad to be back.”

As the season comes to a close, the Seahawks hope to keep going by earning an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament if a CAA championship ends up not being in the cards. Seniors, especially Van der Burgh, are trying to not take their remaining time for granted.

“I’m just trying to enjoy every match,” said Van der Burgh. “I’m trying to take it all in and really enjoy competing. So at the moment, I’m just trying to enjoy every moment and make the most of it.”