#2 Mississippi STate 4, #3 Florida 2
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Toughness was needed in big ways on semifinal Saturday at the 2018 SEC Men's Tennis Championship in a match between Top 10 teams Mississippi State and Florida. The Bulldogs' toughness won out, as second-seeded and ninth-ranked MSU (19-2) advanced to its second straight SEC Championship title match with an exciting 4-2 victory against the third-seeded and 10th-ranked Gators (16-8).
MSU will now face top-seeded and fifth-ranked Texas A&M (22-4) at Noon on Sunday at the Alabama Tennis Stadium. The Aggies topped fourth-seeded Tennessee, 4-0, in their semifinal match on Saturday. TAMU won the regular-season meeting against the Bulldogs, 5-2, on April 13 in College Station, MSU's only SEC setback of the season.
Sunday's match will be aired live on the SEC Network and WatchESPN, with Sam Gore and Jimmy Arias on the call. Live video and stats will also be available at www.rolltide.com/sec.
"The guys are believing in and supporting each other more than ever, and that's something we really stress in practice," fourth-year head coach Matt Roberts said. "These guys are taking ownership of this program. Good things are happening because these second- and third-year guys are changing this culture. Their expectations are higher, even with the day-to-day things."
Facing three of the nation's top 50 doubles teams, the Bulldogs would have to dig hard to grab the doubles point. And the Maroon and White did just that, coming out with an abundance of energy and started strong on all three courts. MSU's 15th-ranked Nuno Borges and Strahinja Rakic were first off the court, taking a huge upset victory against UF's Johannes Ingildsen and Alfredo Perez-the third-ranked duo in the country - by a 6-3 score.
The Gators' 25th-ranked Oliver Crawford and Chase Perez-Blanco then earned a tight 6-4 win on court 3 against MSU's Florian Broska and Trevor Foshey to even the doubles count at one apiece, setting up an exciting finish at the No. 2 position.
On court 2, MSU's 61st-ranked pair of Niclas Braun and Giovanni Oradini were locked in a back-and-forth battle with UF's No. 49 tandem of McClain Kessler and Duarte Vale. The Bulldog duo duplicated its result against Kessler and Vale from their meeting in Starkville in March, taking a 6-4 victory to clinch the doubles point. It was their 13th triumph in 14 dual matches this season. The match was just as tight in singles, with both teams taking three first sets. However, MSU's second-ranked Borges notched his 80th career singles win with a 6-4, 6-4 victory against UF's 24th-ranked Ingildsen. At 40-15, Borges delivered a rocket to the inside corner of the service box for a second-serve ace to seal his match on court 1.
Florida cut MSU's lead in half when No. 13 Perez completed a 6-3, 6-2 win against State's 77th-ranked Strahinja Rakic on court 3. The Gators then tied up the match when Kessler downed State's Foshey in an exciting three-setter on court 6 by a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 mark. Foshey's match would be the first of four three-setters on the day.
With both teams needing two of the remaining three courts to pull out the win, all three of them would go to a third frame as well.
The Bulldogs went up 3-2 when Braun rallied from a set down to take an inspired 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory against Florida's Perez-Blanco on court 4.
Like Braun, State's 27th-ranked Oradini dropped a tight 6-4 decision in his first frame against the Gators' 51st-ranked Crawford, but came through when it mattered most in his second and third sets. The sophomore led 5-2 in the third, but Crawford battled back to win the next two games to make it 5-4 on serve. At 15-40, Oradini delivered a blistering strike past Crawford on the left sideline to wrap the match in Maroon and White, sending the Bulldogs to the championship match on Sunday.
MSU's Broska was down 5-2 at No. 5 against UF's Andrade when the match was clinched.
State has now won two straight matches against the Gators and is set to make its sixth appearance in the SEC final match since the tournament went to a dual match format in 1990. MSU's only SEC tournament title came in 1996.
"I believe in every guy on this team and they believe in each other to get the job done," Roberts said. "We have 100-percent trust in them and we're going to find a way to help them through those key moments."
#1 Texas A&M 4, #4 Tennessee 0
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The No. 5 Texas A&M men's tennis team swept No. 19 Tennessee, 4-0, Saturday afternoon at the Alabama Tennis Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Aggies advanced to the SEC Tournament Championship for the third time in the six seasons since joining the league after winning the 2014 and 2015 tournament title. Texas A&M will take on No. 9 Mississippi State at 12:00 p.m. on SEC Network to determine the tournament champion.
For the second straight day, the Aggies opened the match capturing the doubles point. No. 6 Jordi Arconada and Juan Carlos Aguilar used a late break to top No. 13 Preston Touliatos and Luis Valero on the top court. Moments later, the Vols evened the doubles match with a 7-5 win by Timo Stodder and Adam Walton over AJ Catanzariti and Arthur Rinderknech on court two. With the day's first point on the line, Patrick Kypson and Valentin Vacherot were up to the task using a break to clinch the point over Nicaise Muamba and Scott Jones, 6-4, on court three.
As play transitioned to singles matches, the Aggies maintained all of the momentum earning the first sets on all six courts. In a race to earn the three points necessary to send the Aggies through to the championship match, No. 7 Kypson came through with a 6-2, 6-3 win over No. 15 Stodder on the top court.
Moments after Kypson topped Stodder, No. 121 Aguilar bested Preston Touliatos on court six, 6-2, 6-0, to push the A&M advantage out to 3-0. No. 71 Vacherot clinched the win for the Maroon & White with a 6-1, 6-4 win over No. 117 Walton on court four.
Sunday's championship match will be a rematch against Mississippi State after the two teams met up in the final weekend of the regular season on April 13 in College Station. The Aggies came out on top against Bulldogs to clinch the regular season title.
The championship match will be aired live on SEC Network at 12:00 p.m. with Sam Gore calling play-by-play and Jimmy Arias providing commentary.