OXFORD, Miss. – Tennis is a game of inches where a few points here and there can make a difference, and that was the case for the No. 10 nationally ranked Ole Miss men’s tennis team here Saturday against No. 26 Michigan in the first round of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend. The Wolverines won a key tiebreaker in doubles and two tiebreakers at No. 5 singles to come away with a 4-3 win in front a packed house (575) at the Gillom Sports Center.
With the win, Michigan advanced to the championship match Sunday at 1 p.m., against Illinois, who downed Clemson 4-0 in the second match. The Rebels and Tigers will square off at 9 a.m.
The match came down to No. 5 singles, where redshirt freshman Vinod Gowda was playing his first ever dual match against a senior in Michigan’s Barrett Franks. After falling behind a break in the first set, Gowda broke back and actually held a set point up 6-5 in the breaker before Franks won three straight points for 6-5(6). The second set was much like the first, with Franks going up an early break. Gowda showed grit and fought back again to get to a tiebreaker, after Franks served for it at 5-4. However, Franks won the tiebreaker 7-1 to clinch the match for the Wolverines.
“Michigan is a fine indoor team,” head coach Billy Chadwick said. “It comes down to the fact that they played two tiebreakers better than we did in Vinod’s match, and they came away with the victory. Vinod is going to be a good position for us, but right now he is ‘green.’ He got a little tight, but he’ll get over that. We definitely want to thank the tremendous crowd for coming out and supporting us. We play again at 9 a.m., Sunday against another very good team, and we would love to have them come back out to watch.”
The match began with Michigan taking a tight doubles point. After the Wolverines won 6-0 at No. 3, all eyes turned courts one and two where each match was close. William Kallberg and Stefan Lindmark had just started a tiebreaker at two, when the Michigan duo of Franks and Alex Buzzi defeated Nik Scholtz and Johan Backstrom in a tiebreaker at one, 6-5(4).
The Rebels fell behind 2-0 when Kallberg dropped his singles match to Alex Petrone 6-3, 6-2 at No. 2 singles. But, the Rebels weren’t done.
Scholtz, ranked No. 15 in the nation, put his team on the board with a solid 6-4, 6-2 win against Vlad Stefan at No. 1 singles. Lindmark evened up the overall score with what Chadwick called the best match of the day, winning in three sets. After dropping the first set, Lindmark came back to defeat Justin Rossi 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.
Backstrom, the Rebels’ lone senior, played a solid match in defeating Michigan’s Alex Buzzi 6-2, 6-4 at No. 4 singles to give the Rebels a 3-2 lead.
“Nik is one of the best players in the country, and he showed that today,” Chadwick said. “That was impressive. I felt like the best match played that we won, was Stefan’s. Stefan played really well against an opponent that was playing well. Johan is one of our really solid positions, and he showed that today.”
“It’s always disappointing to lose, especially at home,” Scholtz said. “We had a really good crowd. We didn’t win any of the close points out there today, and time and time again that ends up being the difference. That’s the first time for Zach and Vinod to be in that situation, and hopefully they’ll learn from it.
Michigan tied the match when Michael Zhu defeated Oxford native Zach Wilder 6-2, 6-2 at No. 6 singles moments before the matter was decided at No. 5.
“We have to do a better job of taking care of some positions. We had a look at No. 1 doubles to possibly get the doubles point and didn’t get it. William has been struggling a little bit as of late, and we need him to step up and play like he is capable of playing. We need to get more competitive at three doubles, because it puts too much pressure on one and two doubles. It’s inexperience at that position. What you are going to see early is that we’re going to struggle there, but if we work hard, we can be competitive as the season goes along.”
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