OXFORD, Miss. -- The Ole Miss men’s tennis team rallied to beat No. 32 Memphis 4-3 here Tuesday in their first outdoor match of the season at the newly renovated Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center/Galtney Courts.
After a disappointing start losing the doubles point, the Rebels came out swinging at the top three spots in singles and at No. 6, where Johan Backstrom clinched the victory.
“It was a tough match, but we knew it would be. Memphis has a very strong team,” head coach Billy Chadwick said. “They did a good job in the doubles. We had some looks at No. 3 doubles at 6-6 up 40-0. If we get that, it could have been the difference maker in the doubles. We did a good job of coming out after a disappointing doubles and finding a way to get four singles. I am glad we were challenged and had our backs against the wall. These are the kinds of things that make your team a little better.”
With the match squared at three, all eyes turned to court six where Backstrom, a sophomore, was up a set and looking to close out Memphis senior Leon Nasemann. Backstrom served for it at 5-0, but got broken for the first time in the match. Not wanting to try and serve it out again, Backstrom broke Nasemann in a long back and forth seventh game to clinch the 4-3 victory.
“It was a very long game, that last one. I had some match points, and he hit some good volleys. I just grinded it out,” Backstrom said. “I had a chance to serve it out at 5-0, and got broken for the first time in the match. It was good to come back from that and take it right away in that kind of pressure. “I knew that it was coming down to me, when everybody came up top. But it was 6-4, 4-0 when everybody came up there, so it was fine. It’s a lot of pressure playing the last match, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
Memphis came into the match with wins against Tennessee and Vanderbilt already in their pocket, so the Rebels knew it would be a battle. The Rebels responded after digging an early hole by dropping the doubles point.
Freshman Nik Scholtz turned up the heat with his impressive 6-1, 6-3 win at No. 1 singles against Tiger Joe Salisbury. That put the Rebels on the board and gave them a much-needed lift.
Coach Chadwick switched up Marcel Thiemann and Jonas Lutjen in the lineup, and both delivered solid wins to give the Rebels a 3-1 lead. Thiemann downed Johnny Grimal 6-3, 6-1 on court three.
Lutjen’s match featured an up and down first set in which the junior from Schessel, Germany led UM’s David O’Hare 5-3 and served for the set, before getting broken. At 5-5, Lutjen broke and was able to serve it out 7-5. He used the momentum of winning a close first set to dominate the second 6-1.
“It was good to see Nik step up and get a straight set win, and Jonas did a good job of working through his match. He’s been playing well lately and it was good to see him step up in a pressure situation. Marcel played great at three. Backy was too strong at six,” Chadwick said.
Memphis won at No. 5 singles in straight sets and then dominated a third set on court four to even it up before Backstrom closed it out up at six.
The Rebels open up Southeastern Conference play Friday hosting No. 12 Auburn at 2 p.m. at the Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center. Admission is free and fans will receive a collector’s poster of senior Marcel Thiemann.
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