Men's Tennis Season Ends with Heartbreaking 4-3 Loss at Illinois
May 12, 2012
URBANA, Ill. - A match that lasted nearly five hours came down to the final excruciating points as the 17th-ranked Auburn men's tennis team dropped a heart-wrenching 4-3 decision to No. 16 Illinois, ending the Tigers' NCAA Tournament run in the second round at Illinois' Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex.
The Tigers finish the 2012 dual match season with an 18-10 record, giving Auburn its most wins in a season since 2002. The loss marked Auburn's sixth straight in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Illinois (19-7) will advance to the round of 16 for the ninth time in 10 years.
"What can you say about a match like that?" Auburn head coach Eric Shore said. "The guys left it all out there. We got off to a slow start in doubles and really, really battled back. We put ourselves in a position to win. Even though we lost the doubles point, I didn't feel bad. I thought we were carrying some momentum into singles, and we did. Ultimately, we came up a little bit short. I'm proud of these guys and everything they did.
"We've been in tight matches like that over the last few years, but not in that situation, for a Sweet 16 berth. But would you rather lose 4-0 and be done in three hours, or would you rather lose the last match of the day after a five-hour battle? I'll take the five-hour match, because you know you're in the battle. And I thought we proved that today."
With five of the six singles matches decided in straight sets, it all came down to a three-set affair that lasted nearly four hours on court three between Auburn's Daniel Cochrane and Illinois' Bruno Abdelnour. Cochrane lost a first-set tiebreaker, but came back to take control in the second set and gain a 6-2 win.
As the wind picked up and the crowd of nearly 500 Illinois fans gathered around court three, the players started off by trading breaks to get back on serve after two games. Abdelnour, however, found a way to break Cochrane's serve and take a 3-1 lead. Both players held from there until Abdelnour had a chance to serve for the match at 5-3. Cochrane had two break point chances at the end, but two extremely close calls - one down the far sideline and one just beyond the baseline - went in Illinois' favor, and Abdelnour eventually won the match.
"There were a couple of things in that match with Dan that you can't control," Shore said. "It's tough on the road when it comes down to crunch time, and things don't really go in your favor. But that's the way it is. The NCAA committee felt like we shouldn't have hosted, and that's a hard one to swallow right now. I don't think we lose this match at Auburn. Illinois fed off their crowd a little bit at the end, and we would have fed off our crowd at home. But we put ourselves in a position to win, and you can't ask any more than that. I'm proud of them.
"You can't say enough about (Dan). He's grown up as a player. He went through a rough stretch this year, but he was a warrior today. He left it out there. I'm so impressed with him as a person and a player, and I'm looking forward to the next two years with him."
Auburn fell behind 1-0 early as Illinois won the doubles point; the Illini improved to 14-0 on the year when taking an early lead. Despite falling behind early, the Tigers clawed their way back into the match on every court. But the ninth-ranked team of Alex Stamchev and Andreas Mies fell in what was an outstanding match against 21st-ranked Dennis Nevolo and Roy Kalmanovich, 8-6, on court one. Illinois then clinched the point as Cochrane and Lukas Ollert dropped a hard-fought decision on court three to Stephen Hoh and Abdelnour, 8-6. Dennis Lengsfeld and Lucas Lopasso were on serve with Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignon when play was halted.
The Fighting Illini took a 2-0 lead when Hoh defeated Lengsfeld in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3, on court five. But from there, things got interesting.
Auburn got on the board as Ollert downed Guignon, 6-3, 6-2, at the No. 6 singles slot to make it 2-1. Just a few minutes later, 68th-ranked Stamchev used the momentum from winning a first-set tiebreaker to take down 31st-ranked Roy Kalmanovich, 7-6 (5), 6-3, and knot the team score at two apiece. It was the highest-ranked player Stamchev has ever defeated in singles, and it came in what turned out to be his final singles match as a Tiger.
"What a competitor," Shore said of Stamchev. "He left it all out there today. Got us a huge win in singles. But I can't say enough about Stam and what he's meant to the program. And he gets to play some more. He gets to play doubles in the NCAA Tournament. But I know he's really disappointed right now. He's meant so much to the program, and we wouldn't have been in this position without him."
Auburn took the lead at 3-2 as Lopasso earned a huge 6-4, 7-6 (7) win over Kopinski at the No. 4 singles slot, and the remaining two matches loomed large.
Mies, ranked 18th in the country, took No. 7 Nevolo to a first-set tiebreaker, but fell behind with a 7-5 setback. The players stayed on serve throughout the second set, but Nevolo managed to break Mies at 5-4 to clinch the victory, 7-6 (5), 6-4, and set up the thriller on court three.
While the team's season is complete, there is still more tennis to be played. Stamchev and Mies will compete in the NCAA Doubles Championship, and Mies will play in the NCAA Singles Championship, which both get underway after the conclusion of the team tournament. Singles play begins Wednesday, May 23, at the Dan Magill Tennis Center in Athens, Ga.
Auburn Men's Tennis
#16 Illinois 4, #17 Auburn 3
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