ATHENS, Ga. – The Oklahoma men's tennis team pushed No. 3 Ohio State to the brink before ultimately falling 4-3 in the round of 16 at the 2017 NCAA Division I Men's Tennis Championships in Athens, Ga., on Thursday.
Oklahoma won the doubles point and two singles matches to lead the dual 3-2 at one point, but the Buckeyes would take the last two singles matches on to advance.
“I knew it was going to be a war, but we were very confident in ourselves,” head coach Nick Crowell said. “Unbelievable fight. I'm super proud of our guys. No one expected us to win that match other than us and that's why we are so disappointed. Our guys left it all out on the courts and that's all I could ever ask.”
"No one expected us to win that match other than us and that's why we are so disappointed.Our guys left it all out on the courts and that's all I could ever ask.”
-Head Coach Nick Crowell
The Sooners jumped on the scoreboard early, grabbing the doubles point from the Buckeyes to lead 1-0, but the dual's first point was hard-fought. Ohio State grabbed a win on court one, but the Sooners' No. 2 pair of seniors Florin Bragusi and Alex Ghilea quickly leveled the playing field with a 6-4 win of their own over No. 30 Hugo Di Feo and Martin Joyce.
“It was a seesaw battle,” Crowell said of the doubles point. “They played really good at one and kind of took us out of the match, but at two Alex and Florin were just doing their thing. They were aggressive. They got the lead and just ran with it.”
That left the fate of the point to court three where OU's German freshmen Jochen Bertsch and Adrian Oetzbach had dropped a break to the Buckeye's pairing of Hunter Tubert and JJ Wolf. The Sooners broke-back to level the match and then took another break at 5-all to put the match on their own racquets. Bertsch got to 40-0 in his service game but Ohio State stormed back to take the break and force a breaker.
In the extra frame, OU fell into an early 3-0 hole, giving Ohio State all the momentum. The Sooners' young duo faced three match points at 6-3 but dug deep and got back to even at 6-6. OU ultimately won the breaker 9-7 on their 6th match point to give OU the doubles decision.
“Three was just a battle,” Crowell said. “They were up a break, then we were and serving. They had 6-3 in the breaker, but it was just a seesaw and fortunately we were able to pull it out.”
Ohio State jumped on OU in singles, winning the first two matches completed (No. 5 and No. 6 singles) to take a 2-1 lead.
Oklahoma answered right back with a pair of wins of its own from the three and four positions.
Bragusi leveled the match at 2-all with a 6-4, 7-6(5) win over Joyce at four. Bragusi earned an early break in the first set and then worked his way into a tiebreaker in the second set to take the match in straight sets.
Ghilea picked up his eighth consecutive singles win (his last loss came on March 18) with a straight-sets triumph of his own at three. Just like Bragusi he took the first set with a break and then claimed a second-set breaker to win the match over the nation's ninth-ranked singles player Di Feo. Crowell was pleased to see Bragusi and Ghilea cap their legendary Sooner careers with wins.
"They were animals out there. In the heat—letting nothing bother them. I'm really proud of those guys but disappointed for them because they had such great careers."
- Head Coach Nick Crowell
“We felt really good at those two spots going in,” Crowell said. “They have been rock solid all year and nothing different today. They were animals out there. In the heat—letting nothing bother them. I'm really proud of those guys but disappointed for them because they had such great careers. But that's tennis.”
That left junior Spencer Papa and senior Andrew Harris on courts one and two with the Sooners needing one more point to advance to a fourth straight elite eight.
In a match with an exceptional level of play, junior Spencer Papa jumped out to a first set win and led 3-0 in the second set over the nation's No. 2-ranked singles player Mikael Torpegaard at No. 1 singles. Papa dropped the second set in a breaker and then in the third set Torpegaard broke early and went on to win 6-2 to take the match.
“Spencer's fight was incredible today,” Crowell said. “I thought he played maybe his best match of the year and this is the time to do it. Just a great effort. He clawed his way back in the third, got down an early break, but Torpegaard is just really good.”
Ohio State clinched the match with a win at No. 2 singles. Senior Andrew Harris dropped the first set to Wolf, ranked No. 46, but dominated the second set 6-1 to force a third. Wolf broke early but Harris got the match back on serve with a third-set break of his own. The match went to a tiebreaker with the fate of the dual riding on the outcome. Wolf took the extra frame 7-2, eliminating the Sooners from the championship.
“It was really tough that we put him in that position,” Crowell said of Harris. “But he was really tough and hung in there. Lost the first set tight but came back and won the second 6-1. We had a couple chances in the third, but it just didn't go our way.”
The loss ends the Sooners' 2017 season as a team, but three OU student-athletes will remain in Athens a little longer. Ghilea and Papa will take part in the 64-player singles championships as individuals and Papa and Harris will team to compete in the 32-team doubles draw. Those matches will begin on Wednesday, May 24 after the conclusion of the team portion of the championships.
For more information on Oklahoma men's tennis, follow the team on Twitter @OU_MTennis.