OXFORD, Miss. -- The Ole Miss men’s tennis team, ranked No. 23 in the nation, swept Southern Miss in their season opener here Thursday at the Gillom Sports Center to begin the much-anticipated 2012 season.
Head coach Billy Chadwick has assembled a team he feels is talented enough to compete with the top teams in the SEC and the nation, and Thursday the team delivered a complete win.
“The guys were very excited to play our first dual match, especially the freshmen on the team. There is a lot of excitement with this team, and I think the fans saw that,” said Chadwick who opened his 30th campaign with the Rebel men.
The Rebels swept the doubles dropping only seven games total. After teaming with his brother for an 8-3 win at No.1 doubles, two-time All-American Marcel Thiemann took out Golden Eagle newcomer Juan Escobar at No.2 singles to give Ole Miss a 2-0 lead.
Highly touted freshman Nik Scholtz made his debut and won in straight sets at No. 1 singles to increase the Rebels’ lead to 3-0.
It’s never easy, Chadwick noted, for a freshmen to play the first home match, especially at the top spot. But, Scholtz delivered right off the bat, winning the first game with four straight aces.
“We’ve said a lot of good things about him,” Chadwick said. “I think he showed that today. He came out in the doubles and played really well as did his partner, Jonas Lutjen. In singles, he really put on a display. Any time you make your debut and you’re playing at the top position, it’s going to be tough. I thought he did an excellent job.”
Scholtz was probably the most anticipated player fans wanted to see, mainly because he was here last year but could not play, and then missed the fall with a stress fracture in his pelvis. He said he was excited to get the first match out of the way.
“Obviously there was a little bit of nerves with it being my first match for Ole Miss. I’ve been waiting a year and a half for this, so it’s been a long wait,” said Scholtz, a semifinalist at the SEC Indoor two weeks ago. “I’m glad I got it under my belt and I think I played pretty well.
“I think it’s all going to come together, and I want to thank our graduate assistant athletic trainer Jon Williams, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, John Simmons, and the coaches with helping me get back ready to play in top form after the injury. This was all worth the wait,” he added.
Chadwick has stated that junior Jonas Lutjen is one of the most improved players, not just on the team, but in the conference. He showed that at the SEC Indoor with his semifinal appearance, and in the season opener he demonstrated it again, grinding out a tough straight set win to clinch the match for the Rebels.
Lutjen won the first set in a tiebreaker and then got down 4-0 in the second set before winning six straight games to beat USM’s Paulo Alvarado 7-6(2), 6-4.
“We’ve been working hard for this for a year, and we were excited to play this match,” Lutjen said. “I have to give credit to the other guy too, he played really well. It’s important to try and stay focused in the match even when you’re not playing your best, and find a way to win. I was able to do that.”
Sweden’s William Kallberg also made his debut winning 6-2, 6-4 at No. 4 singles. Senior Chris Thiemann won 6-1, 6-2 at No. 5 singles, and sophomore Johan Backstrom completed the sweep with a 6-1, 6-2 victory at No. 6 singles.
“We feel like we have a great 1-2-3 punch at the top and then William Kallberg showed what he brings to the table. He has real power with his serve, and with his forehand, he’s going to be one to reckon with. To his left you have someone as good as Chris Thiemann playing five. When you have someone like Johan Backstrom playing the sixth position a player as good as Adrian (Forberg Skogeng) sitting on the bench that’s a great position to be in. We know he can play. With Joe Rogers at No. 8, we feel like we are a deep team 1-8,” Chadwick said.
Scholtz and Lutjen agree with their coach’s assessment and are looking forward to many more wins in 2012.
“We have a great team this semester and we’re looking forward to possibly winning the SEC Championship and maybe winning the national championship,” Scholtz said. “We’re definitely one of the top teams in the country this year, hopefully we can put it all together and prove it on the scoreboard. Talent wise we’re up there... for sure.”
“I am really excited about the team we have this year,” Lutjen echoed. “William is a great addition who just got here, and of course Nik was here last year, but didn’t get to play. They’re going to make a big impact on the team.”
Next up for the team is a huge test against No. 15 Oklahoma in the first round of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend Sunday in Knoxville, Tenn.
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