CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Friday the 13th did not prove unlucky for the 21st ranked Mississippi State men’s tennis team (17-8) as the Bulldogs cruised past No. 42 Memphis (14-11) in the opening round of the NCAA Championship, 4-1.
The Maroon and White will face off against No. 15 Illinois at 4 p.m. CT Saturday afternoon from the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex. Live stats and a video stream can be found at FightiningIllini.com.
Tickets for tomorrow’s second round match can be purchased at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex starting one hour prior to the contest.
“We had seven guys that have never played in the NCAAs before today’s match,” head coach Matt Roberts said. “I was impressed how they battled and stepped up to win the doubles point over a tough Memphis team. That gave us a lot of energy going into singles which helped our confidence.”
The 47th ranked duo of Mate Cutura and Vaughn Hunter picked up the Bulldogs first win of the afternoon, as the junior pair fought back after being down 0-2 to win 6-2. The win against Kai Lemke and Louis Asser was the junior duos third of the season.
The pair of Rishab Agarwal and Niclas Braun would fall, 6-4, to the Tiger tandem of Shakeel Manji and Andrew Watson to even the doubles up at a match apiece.
The deciding match would come down to the freshmen pair of Trevor Foshey and Luka Sucevic, as the two outlasted Ryan Peniston and Felix Rauch of Memphis in a tiebreaker 7-6(5). The win for the duo was their second of the season and first at the No. 2 position.
Memphis bounced back to begin singles action as the Tigers took their lone point of the match on court 1. Cutura would fall in two sets to 108th ranked Watson, 6-1, 6-3. The Bulldogs and Tigers would slug it out on the remaining five courts, as the Bulldogs won four of five first sets in those contests.
On court 6, Sucevic carried momentum from his thrilling win in doubles play into singles action as the freshman earned MSU’s second point of the afternoon. Sucevic would coast past Manji of Memphis, 6-4, 6-3 to retake the lead for State at 2-1.
“The result in doubles helped us carry energy into singles,” Sucevic said following his 10th singles win of the season. “I felt great from the beginning of singles after the doubles win, just like the other guys, and that helped us get this win today.”
The freshmen pair of Nuno Borges and Braun would get back-to-back wins on courts 3 and 4 to put away the Tigers as the pair earned a couple of two-set victories.
For Borges the win came after the freshman missed most of practice during the two weeks leading up to the NCAA Championship due to injury. Borges let his opponent creep back into the match at 4-4 in the second set, but the freshman would find his composure and come away with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Kai Lemke.
“The story of this match was how much Nuno stepped up for us,” Roberts said. “He was uncertain if he was going to play today, but he dug deep and came through for us. I am proud of the way he fought today.”
The dual-match win added to the freshman’s team best mark, as Borges earned his 19th dual-match victory of the season after Friday’s contest.
Up 3-1, the Bulldogs would look to court 4 as Braun downed his Memphis foe, 6-4, 6-3 to clinch the match for the Maroon and White. Braun’s win against Chris Patzanovsky gave the freshman his 26th overall win in singles this season.
Freshman Strahinja Rakic and junior Agarwal’s matches were suspended in the second set after the Buldogs clinched the 4-1 win. Rakic was leading Rauch, 7-6(4), 2-3, while Agarwal was battling No. 92 Peniston, 5-7, 4- before the suspensions.
Friday’s win was MSU’s sixth-straight first round victory, as the Bulldogs improved their opening round record to 17-4. The win against the Tigers was State’s ninth straight in the series.
MSU’s has now earned 11 ranked wins on the season after downing No. 42 Memphis, the win on a neutral court was only State’s second of the season. The victory in doubles play improved MSU’s record to 10-1 when winning the point to begin a match this season.
Saturday’s foe, No. 15 Illinois, comes into the second round after winning its first round match 4-1 as well as the hosts defeated Western Michigan in Friday’s afternoon cap. The Illini are 20-10 on the year, with two ranked players in singles and one ranked teams in doubles. Aleks Vukic and Jared Hiltzik are the highest ranked players at No. 4 and No. 16, while Aaron Hiltzik is No. 60 in the country. Illinois ranked tandem is Vukic and Aron Hiltizk at No. 87.
The Bulldogs and Fighting Illini have met three times on the court, with MSU taking the last meeting in 2001. The last meeting between the two program’s was also a NCAA Second Round match, as the Bulldogs downed the Illini 4-2 on May 13, 2001.