GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Faced with an early 1-0 deficit, the sixth-ranked and second-seeded Mississippi State men's tennis team battled back to post a gutsy 4-2 win against 10th-seeded and 36th-ranked Vanderbilt on Friday morning in the quarterfinals of the 2019 SEC Championship at Florida's Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex.
With the win, the Bulldogs (20-3) advanced to the semifinals for the fifth straight year - all in head coach Matt Roberts' tenure. The victory also marked MSU's fifth straight in the series against the Commodores (15-11) and the second this season. State eclipsed the 20-win mark for the fourth time in Roberts' five seasons, including the third year in a row.
The Bulldogs will next take on No. 22 South Carolina in Saturday's semifinals, set for an 11 a.m. CT first serve. The Gamecocks (17-8), seeded sixth in the tourney, upset third-seeded No. 11 Texas A&M on Friday by a score of 4-2. MSU claimed this year's regular-season meeting, escaping Columbia with a 4-3 victory on March 11 in a match that was suspended on March 8 after persistent rain.
"Overall, I'm very happy for the guys today," head coach Matt Roberts said. "I thought we competed really well in our first round, being gritty and battling as a team. Today was a great match to get under our belt. Vanderbilt played really well in the doubles point, which put us in a little hole early, but we fought back to make it 1-all and then to go up 3-1. It wasn't easy from there, so hats off to them for battling and making it tough on us. We're happy to be moving on, and we're excited about another great match tomorrow against South Carolina."
The Bulldogs started off with a lot of energy in doubles to go up early on all three courts, but the Commodores fought back with some fire of their own to take a tight doubles point.
On court 2, State's 20th-ranked Niclas Braun and Giovanni Oradini went up 4-1 early and had to stave off Vandy's Maxwell Freeman and George Harwell, who won the next two games to cut it to 4-3. The Bulldog duo then won the next two points, holding at 40-30 to win the first doubles match of the day. On court 1, the Commodores' 14th-ranked Cameron Klinger and Billy Rowe broke the Bulldogs' third-ranked Nuno Borges and Strahinja Rakic to go up 4-3 on court 1 before holding to lead 5-3. Borges and Rakic held serve to cut it to 5-4, but the VU duo served it out to even up the doubles count at a win apiece, setting up a winner-take-all on court 3.
There, both sides held serve throughout the match until VU's Macsen Sisam and Panu Virtanen broke serve against Trevor Foshey and Gregor Ramskogler to go up 5-4. The Commodore tandem then served it out to clinch the doubles point and give Vandy a 1-0 lead.
MSU would bounce back quickly, taking five first sets en route to rattling off three straight singles wins to go up 3-1. But the Commodores pushed four of those matches to third sets.
First, the second-ranked Borges remained unbeaten in dual match play this season, downing the 78th-ranked Klinger 6-4, 6-3 on court 1 to knot up the score at 1-all. With the win, Borges moved into a tie for first in career wins (177) and career singles wins (112) at MSU, matching All-Americans Matthieu Ballay (1996-99) and Mark Jeffrey (1988-91) in those categories. The two-time reigning SEC Player of the Year won his 22nd straight match and has won his last nine matches in straight sets.
On court 5, the Bulldog senior Foshey captured his seventh-straight victory, notching a hard-fought 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 decision over VU's Freeman. Moments later, the Bulldogs pulled ahead 3-1 when Florian Broska posted a three-set triumph of his own - 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 over the Commodores' Virtanen on court 6.
With the remaining three matches all in tight third-set battles, the Bulldogs relied on some clutch play down the stretch to come away with the win.
VU cut the deficit to 3-2 when Harwell upset MSU's 61st-ranked Oradini 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 on court 2.
With Commodores up a break at 2-0 in the third on court 3, VU's Sisam would break Braun's serve at No. 4 to go up 4-3, but the German senior would not bow out.
Rakic broke back and held serve to make it 2-all at No. 3, while Braun also broke to make it 4-all. From there, the senior veteran showed his toughness, holding serve to go up 5-4 and then breaking Sisam at 30-40 with a strong forehand pass to clinch the Bulldogs' victory - his seventh of the year. At the clinch, Rowe led Rakic 6-4, 6-7(4), 3-2 in the third.
Next Up For MSU ...
The Bulldogs will next take on No. 22 South Carolina in Saturday's semifinals, set for an 11 a.m. CT first serve. The Gamecocks, seeded sixth in the tourney, upset third-seeded No. 11 Texas A&M on Friday by a score of 4-2.
The Gamecocks are led in singles by a pair of ranked players in No. 6 Paul Jubb and No. 119 Daniel Rodrigues. In doubles, Jubb teams up with Raphael Lambling to form the nation's 54th-ranked tandem.