KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Following a 4-2 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide, the 49th-ranked Vanderbilt men's tennis team continues its journey in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
"I'm really proud of our team," said head coach Ian Duvenhage, "We went out there and did a good job on just about every court. Even though we didn't win every match, we had chances just about everywhere."
With the victory, Vandy moves on to face the fifth-seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs tomorrow evening at 5 p.m. CT in the second round of tournament play. In its last meeting, MSU earned a 5-2 win over the Dores in Music City.
The morning competition against the Crimson Tide began with the Commodores clinching the doubles point with wins on courts two and three. Alabama nabbed the first victory on the day, as the team's No. 1 doubles team, Mazen Osama and Spencer Richey, defeated Pen Binet and Baker Newman, 6-3. Over on court two, Tate Allwardt and Billy Rowe held onto a quick lead over Thibault Cancel and Alexey Neil, giving up one match point before taking the victory, 6-3.
Tied at 3-all on court three, Daniel Valent and Panu Vitanen broke serve for the important 4-3 advantage, the Dores then held serve, 5-3, and allowed Edson Ortiz and Zhe Zhou one additional game before delivering VU the one point advantage, 6-4.
"I thought we did a much better job this match against Alabama compared to earlier this month," Duvenhage said. "We made some adjustments this morning and moved Tate Allwardt in with Billy Rowe and they did a great job at No. 2. Danny Valent and Panu Virtanen also did a great job at No. 3 so that doubles point was huge."
In singles, Vanderbilt took four first sets with half of the four opening set leads coming over ranked opponents.
Following a 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 119 Cancel, No. 107 Newman gave VU the 2-0 edge. The win was the junior's fourth ranked victory in the last five matches, and second over Cancel in a month's span.
"When Baker has his head in the right place, he's very, very though to beat," stated Duvenhage. "He did another great job today. It's hard to beat a great tennis player in straight-sets two times in a row, but he did it and that win helped our momentum and gave us the 2-0 lead."
Alabama earned victories on courts six then five to level the score, 2-2. After breezing through the first set against Spencer Richey, 6-2, Binet fell in the resulting two sets, 6-3, 6-1. Allwardt was edged out of a fist set tiebreaker versus Zhou, 7-6(3). The freshman from Tianjin, China carried momentum into the second set, taking the match 7-6(3), 6-3.
Valent earned another upset victory over No. 27 Osama, in the two student-athletes second three-set battle this season. Valent earned the first set lead against Osama in tiebreak fashion. Alabama rallied back into the competition on court one, only allowing Valent one game throughout the second set. With the lead on the line, Valent earned the lead late in a close third set for a win, 7-6(4), 1-6, 6-4. The junior Commodore remains undefeated against Osama and the Crimson Tide.
Rowe came through for the clinch for the black and gold, as the freshman took a three-setter of his own. Facing Alexey Nesterov on court three, Rowe lost his opening set tiebreaker, 7-6(1), but switched gears to take the second set, 6-4, and limit Nesterov to just one game in the final set.
At the clinch Virtanen and Ortiz were tied 5-all in the third set. The freshman from Helsinki, Finland lost his opening set, 6-2, but rallied to force a third set, 6-4.
"Tate lost, but he fought back from breaks," Duvenhage said. "Panu was down a set and a break to take his match to a third set. Danny did a great job coming back to take his match at number one... everybody did well today.
"We had a really close match against Mississippi State earlier in the season. Panu had set points, and Baker and Billy lost in the third set. It's a match we can win. We're going to enjoy this win for about an hour and then focus on tomorrow's match."