ATHENS, Ga. - The No. 13 seed Ole Miss men's tennis team won the doubles point against No. 4 UCLA, but the Bruins raced out to big leads in singles and held on for a 4-1 win in the NCAA Championships third round here Friday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
The Rebels' season ends at 15-9, while UCLA (25-3) advances to the quarterfinals to face Ohio State. It marked Ole Miss' 16th Sweet Sixteen appearance overall and first since 2009.
"You have to hand it to UCLA," head coach Billy Chadwick said. "We did a great job of taking the doubles point, but they played great in taking the first sets. I thought we did an exceptional job of coming back, and even at No. 6, the third set was really tight. There were two games that we had break points in, and they came up with big shots."
The doubles point was exciting coming down to the wire, but the Rebels were able to come up with the goods in a tiebreaker at three to take the early 1-0 lead. The No. 13 ranked duo of Nik Scholtz and Jonas Lutjen defeated UCLA's Alex Brigham and Adrien Puget 8-5 at No. 1. The point came down to the No. 3 match with William Kallberg and Johan Backstrom facing Marcos Giron and Warren Hardie. The two battled to a tiebreak and Kallberg and Backstrom raced out to a quick 4-0 lead. UCLA tied it up at 4, before the Reb duo won three straight points to take it 9-8(4).
"The doubles in these matches is obviously up for grabs. I thought we did a little bit better in being determined and finding a way to win the point," Chadwick said. "The thing that was impressive, was they (Backstrom/Kallberg) got a little unlucky with a foot fault called on a point that we won and then lost a pretty easy point where he (Kallberg) touched the net. It went from an easy tiebreaker to where they had to work to get it."
Unfortunately, the Rebels could not carry the momentum of doubles over into singles, as UCLA won all six first sets.
UCLA evened the match when 46th-ranked Puget downed last week's hero in the win over Michigan, Backstrom, 6-1, 6-2 at No. 5 singles. Puget has won 21 straight now and his last lost was on Feb. 3.
The Bruins went ahead 3-1 with straight set wins on four and three. In a battle of nationally ranked freshmen, 84th-ranked Marcos Giron defeated 83rd-ranked Kallberg 6-2, 6-4 on court four. Lutjen dropped his match to Bruin freshman Dennis Novikov 6-4, 6-2 at No. 3.
Just when it looked like UCLA would take the match easily, the Rebels fought back to split sets on courts six, two and one in that order. After dropping the first set 6-4 at No. 6, senior Chris Thiemann won a huge second set tiebreaker 7-6(4 against Bruin Dennis Mkrtchian. Mkrtchian regained the momentum, quickly going up a break in the third and holding on for 6-2 to clinch the victory.
Over on court two, senior Marcel Thiemann had a key hold at 4-4 against Bruin Nick Meister and then broke to win the second set 6-4 after dropping the first 6-3. Thiemann and Meister, the last match on in 2009 when UCLA beat Ole Miss 4-3 in the quarterfinals, were 2-2 in the third.
Scholtz had numerous chances in the first set in his match against UCLA's Clay Thompson, leading the tiebreaker 5-1 before losing it 10-8. He rallied to win the second set 6-2 and was 2-2 in the third when the Bruins clinched.
"Nik did a great job of battling and the first set could have gone either way. They're strong at two and three. We kind of let the No. 3 get away from us. They played extremely well at five. They out-classed us there. We did a good job of being able to stay in there at four and six. We just came up a little short at four, and at six, when we ran the distance, they edged us," Chadwick said.
This was the first NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance for four Rebels, including freshmen Scholtz and Kallberg.
"The match was definitely a lot closer than the final score indicates," said Scholtz, the SEC Freshman of the Year. I had so many break chances in the first set that I couldn't convert. I was really unlucky to lose the first set, up 5-1 in the breaker. In the second set I played well and capitalized on opportunities. The third set was obviously close. We fought hard, but just couldn't put it together.
"I try not to look at the scores when I play, but you could feel the momentum shift, because the guys were getting louder and there was more energy."
The season is not quite over for four Rebels, who will compete in the NCAA Individual Championships. Scholtz is seeded 9-16 in singles and will be joined in the 64-player draw by two-time quarterfinalist Marcel Thiemann and Lutjen. Ole Miss will have two teams in the doubles field with Scholtz/Lutjen and the Thiemanns.
"The NCAA Tournament is the one thing you look forward to all year and we definitely want to play well and make the most of what's left of the season," Scholtz said. "Jonas and I have been playing really well lately, and we have high hopes."
The draws for the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships will be announced Tuesday, May 22.
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