Men’s tennis defeated Mississippi 4-1 in the first round of the ITA Kickoff Weekend, advancing to the final round against Texas Tech, which upset Virginia 4-3 in the previous day’s match.
The Lions (2-0), ranked No. 23 in the most recent Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, were down early after they dropped the doubles point after a narrow defeat at second doubles in a tiebreaker. But despite the early deficit, the Light Blue would not look back, cruising to four straight-sets wins in singles play to advance to the final.
For the Rebels (4-1), who will travel to Morningside Heights to face the Lions on Feb. 11, their lead would be short-lived. Blitzing Mississippi from all sides, the Light Blue easily dispatched a Rebels lineup that featured three ranked players at first, second, and third singles.
The team’s first win came at sixth singles, where junior Timothy Wang, ranked No. 122 in the ITA rankings, coasted to a 6-1, 6-1 victory over the Rebels’ Cotter Wilson to improve his career dual-match record to 29-9, including a sparkling 16-3 record from the sixth singles position over the last two seasons.
After the match finished in a little more than an hour, head coach Bid Goswami said that it was important for Wang to win quickly in order to get a point up on the board and get the Lions back on track.
Soon after Wang’s victory, sophomore Adam Ambrozy, who had been battling a cold the entire week, tallied a dominant 6-1, 6-2 victory over the Rebels’ Fabian Fallert, in which Ambrozy controlled the pace of play throughout. Making his dual match debut, Ambrozy took advantage of big serves and groundstrokes to leave Fallert in the dust.
Goswami was particularly complimentary of Ambrozy’s play, noting that the match was perhaps the sophomore’s most complete performance of his season.
“I think it should give him a lot of confidence,” Goswami said of Ambrozy’s performance. “He bothers people with his shots, and he can really run down people with his shots. We really needed that.”
With a 2-1 lead in hand, both first-year Jack Lin and junior Victor Pham were on the verge of clinching at third and first singles, respectively. With an opportunity to win a second set 6-0, Lin was broken on a deuce point but bounced back to capture a 6-2, 6-1 victory over the Rebels’ Zvonimir Babic, ranked No. 69 in the ITA rankings, breaking his opponent in the deciding game.
Approximately three minutes later, Pham, ranked No. 19 in the ITA rankings, would finish out the match as he battled for a first-set 6-4 win over Mississippi’s No. 32 Gustav Hansson, using an early break to finish out the Rebels’ first singles player to win the match 6-4, 6-0.
Pham has grown accustomed to securing matches for the Lions, so today’s match in Charlottesville drew less fanfare than his clinching matches against Stanford and Harvard in 2016. It did, however, put the Lions one step closer to advancing to the 16-team ITA National Indoor Championships in Seattle, Washington for the third time in four seasons.
As Lin and Pham captured the third and fourth points for the Lions, Goswami came away impressed with his team’s performance up and down the roster.
He was quick to note than even in the unfinished singles matches, both No. 38 sophomore Jackie Tang’s and first-year Austen Huang’s ability to extend their respective matches set them apart.
Tang won the first set 6-4 but was down 5-3 in the second against Mississippi’ No. 14-ranked Tim Sandkaulen at second singles, whereas Huang dropped the first set 6-3 and battled back from a second-set 3-0 deficit to battle back to a 5-4 deficit at fifth singles. Ultimately, while the matches did not finish, Mississippi was kept off the scoreboard, coming away with just the doubles point for the match.
Before the Lions’ singles dominance, the doubles point was awarded to the Rebels after an hour of hard-fought tennis at second and third singles. The pair of Pham and Tang, ranked No. 15 in the ITA rankings, were defeated 6-1 at first doubles after falling behind 5-0 to Mississippi’ Sandkaulen and Fallert.
At third doubles, Ambrozy and senior Michal Rolski, down 0-40, held off four straight match points serving at 4-5 to win the fifth game. The pair would eventually win the match 7-5, leaving it all to Lin and junior Will Matheson, ranked No. 31 in the ITA rankings in doubles.
After an epic tiebreak which featured two points for the duo, the Lions fell just short, falling 7-6(8) after two match points did not go their way and went down 1-0. But in what has become routine for the Light Blue, a short hour and 20 minutes later, the Lions were victorious once again, and Goswami, associate head coach Howard Endelman, CC ’87, and company reveled in yet another victory.
“It was a great team win,” Goswami said. “Now we look forward to Texas Tech. They are a very good team, so it will be a challenge for our guys.”
Yet their celebration lasted just a moment, as after the match finished, the team was back on the courts, hitting balls back and forth in preparation for tomorrow’s match against the No. 25 Red Raiders (10-1), who shocked No. 15 Virginia (2-1) 4-3 after victories in doubles and at fourth, fifth, and sixth singles.
First serve at Boyd Tinsley Courts at the Boar’s Head Tennis Center in Charlottesville, Virginia will be at 2 p.m. tomorrow.