Tennis’ Bierich nails final win against Boilermakers

BY AMIE KIEHN | APRIL 20, 2009 7:30 AM

The last home match for Iowa senior Christian Bierich ended exactly how he wanted. All eyes were transfixed on him and Purdue’s Slavko Bijelica with the dual meet between the Hawkeyes and Boilermakers tied at 3.

The wind gusted as the two stood on the hard green surface for the commencement of their third set, the pressure nearly tangible. The entire time, Bierich was thinking, “Win. Win. Win.”

That was exactly what Iowa’s top player did. He beat Bijelica (5-7, 6-3, 6-4) to help the Hawkeyes edge pass the Boilermakers, 4-3.

“To win on my Senior Day, last match at home, was awesome,” Bierich said. “I was just thinking the whole time during the match, even when I lost the first set, ‘This is not how it’s supposed to end. I am not losing this match; there is no way.’ ”

In addition to him, senior Greg Holm and junior Walker Grimes were recognized for their commitment during the last home match.

Bijelica was a familiar opponent for Bierich. The two met last fall in the semifinals of the Big Ten singles’ championship, and he defeated Bijelica (6-0, 7-5) en route to becoming conference champion.

“I was really calm,” he said. “It just feels really good, and that’s what you want. It’s Senior Day, I’m the last match, and that’s what you want. I want that pressure. I want that feeling to win; that is so much better than anything else.”

Bierich’s exceptional attention along the baseline and powerful serve in the final set were too tough for Bijelica. Bierich nailed a deep corner shot to claim victory and immediately erupted, fist pumping as his team rushed the court.

Head coach Steve Houghton was ecstatic.

“He’s many things, but one thing, of course, he’s been is a great player,” Houghton said. “One of the best I’ve coached around my years, he’d be somewhere in the top three or four certainly.”

The victory was also crucial before the Big Ten Tournament, which starts on Thursday in Ann Arbor, Mich. Iowa (12-8, 4-6) lost, 7-0, to No. 33 Minnesota on April 17 in Minneapolis before returning home to face Purdue.

“We struggled the last couple matches, loss a couple of tough ones, and this [win] will help a lot,” Houghton said. “This will really give us a boost.”

Sophomore Nikita Zotov’s 7-6, 6-1 victory over Purdue’s Eric Ramos also proved to be a significant confidence booster for the Hawkeyes on Sunday.

“It was a big match for us,” Zotov said. “It was tough on me because the end of the season didn’t go so well for me, so it was important for me to win this match. I was struggling in the first set, but then I got back.”

Zotov’s transition from No. 2 to No. 3 singles appears to have been a better fit for the Russian.

“He’s a guy who really lost some confidence the last two to three weeks, and luckily, he’s got it back,” Houghton said. “I mean, this match will help him a lot as far as the Big Ten Tournament goes.”

Iowa’s win put it in a three-way tie for seventh place with Penn State and Wisconsin. However, the Hawkeyes lost to both teams, making them the No. 9 seed in this weekend’s tournament. Iowa is scheduled to play No. 8 Wisconsin on Thursday at 8 a.m. The winner between the Hawkeyes and Badgers will face top-seeded Ohio State on Friday.

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