Regular Season Play Ends With Wins
Senior Michael Jung delivered the match clincher at No. 6 singles to give 15th-ranked Alabama a 4-2 win over No. 18 Auburn on Saturday at the Yarbrough Tennis Center in Auburn. With the win, the Crimson Tide men's tennis team improves to 19-6 overall and 7-4 against SEC opponents, while the Tigers drop to 12-9 on the season and 5-6 versus league foes. Alabama has now won six straight matches against Auburn.
"I couldn't be more proud of our team and its effort," said Coach Billy Pate. "It's a special win for the seniors as they never lost to Auburn in their career."
Alabama began the match in impressive fashion with wins on all three courts in doubles. The No. 2 pairing of senior Billy Mertz and junior Saketh Myneni, ranked 83rd nationally, took down Auburn senior Lukas Marsoun and freshman Alex Stamchev 8-5. Next off on court three was the freshmen duo of Ricky Doverspike and Michael Thompson. Thanks to breaks midway through the set, Doverspike and Thompson were able to hold off Tiger senior Milan Krnjetic and freshman Michel Monteiro 8-5 to award the doubles point to the Tide. Alabama earned a huge win at No. 1 doubles as the 33rd-ranked senior team of Dan Buikema and Mathieu Thibaudeau took down Auburn's 10th-ranked pair of senior Alexey Tsyrenov and sophomore Tim Puetz 8-6. The win was Buikema and Thibaudeau's first win over a top 10 opponent this season.
"Doubles was key for us today," added Pate.. "Auburn is very good in doubles and that was huge for us to gain momentum early. We really came out with a lot of energy and executed."
Senior Billy Mertz gave the Tide its first singles point with a win at No. 5 over senior Alex Petropoulos. Mertz earned an early break to pull in front 3-1 in the first and used that momentum to carry him on to a 6-3 win in the set. Things were closer throughout the second set until he was able to break away late at 5-3. Petropoulos would win one more game before Mertz put it away the set at 6-4. Auburn grabbed its first point of the match next with a win on court two where No. 118 Puetz grabbed a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 75 Thibaudeau.
Alabama moved closer to the match win as 24th-ranked Myneni earned the Tide's third point of the night with a victory at No. 1 over 35th-ranked Tsyrenov. The first set was close throughout its entirety until Myneni stood strong in the end to take the first set 7-5. The second set was just as close, but Myneni was able to win the final three games to take the set 6-4. Again, Auburn would inch its way closer as it picked up another singles win, this time coming at No. 4. Stamchev was able to come out on top in the first set 7-6(5), but needed no tiebreaker in the second set with a 6-3 win over Thompson.
The match would come down to courts three and six where Alabama would look to two of its seniors to step up. In the end, it would be Jung, who earned points when it counted most, to win 7-6(3), 7-5 over Krnjetin to clinch the dual match victory and collect his 30th singles win of the season.
On court three, Buikema was on his way back from a 6-3 first-set loss to Marsoun when the match was decided. The Alabama senior took the second set 6-4 and the final set was on serve with Marsoun ahead 4-3 when it ended.
"We'll enjoy this tonight, but we have a quick turnaround to get ready for the SEC tournament," said Pate.
Alabama now awaits its assignment for the 2009 SEC Men's Tennis Tournament that begins Thursday at Auburn.
Meanwhile in Tuscaloosa, the 26th-ranked Alabama women's tennis team (14-7, 4-7 SEC) defeated on the No. 31 Auburn Tigers (11-11, 3-7 SEC) 4-3 Saturday at the University of Alabama Tennis Stadium. Prior to the match, senior Shelley Godwin was honored, and it was Godwin who came through with the clinching win for the Crimson Tide.
"It was a fairytale ending," said Godwin. "I couldn't ask for anything better than to clinch doubles and clinch the match. It is a blessing to be out here, and I am very thankful for the opportunity."
The doubles point would be decided by a tiebreak on court two, as the teams split courts one and three. The Auburn duo of seniors Alex Haney and Whitney Chappell, ranked No. 21 nationally, cruised to an 8-2 victory over freshman duo Courtney McLane and Taylor Lindsey at the No. 1 spot. Alabama evened things up with a win at the No. 3 position, as sophomore Tiffany Welcher and junior Alice Tunaru took down junior Fani Chifchieva and Taylor Schriemann 8-5. There were several breaks early on, and it was the Tide pair that was able to finally consolidate a break, taking a 6-3 lead. The Tigers hung around to keep things interesting, but could not overcome the break deficit.
All eyes turned to the match at the No. 2 spot, which was tight the entire way. The Tide's junior Paulina Bigos and Godwin traded early breaks with Auburn's junior Myrthe Molenveld and freshman Daniela Vukadinovic, but things stayed on serve until the Tigers were able to break at 6-5, earning a chance to serve for the match. However, they could not cash in, and the match continued. Bigos held to even the match at 7-7, and each pair held once more to force a tiebreak. The Alabama tandem took momentum early, racing out to a 4-0 lead, but Auburn would not go away quietly. The Tide had two match points up 6-4, but squandered them both. However, Bigos and Godwin would earn a third match point, and this time they would capitalize thanks to a great stab volley by Bigos.
Alabama took a 2-0 lead thanks to Lindsey, who was playing at the No. 5 spot for the first time in SEC play. Lindsey breezed through the first set over Vukadinovic, taking it 6-1. She also claimed an early break in the second at 1-1, and broke again as Vukadinovic was serving to stay in the match to win 6-1, 6-3. The Tigers took their first point of the dual match after Chifchieva, currently No. 7 nationally, defeated Welcher, currently No. 83 nationally, in straight sets on court one. Welcher jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first, but Chifchieva would only surrender one more game the rest of the set en route to taking it 6-4. In the second set, it was the Auburn junior who took the early lead, forcing Welcher to play from behind the entire set. Welcher was able to get the set back on serve at 3-4, but Chifchieva broke right back and served the match out from there.
The next match off court went to the Tide, as Bigos battled through a tough first set to take a 7-6 (3), 6-1 victory over Chappell on court three. The first set was on serve until 4-4, when Chappell broke and served for the set. However, she failed to take advantage of the opportunity, and the set was evened at 5-5. The set eventually went into a tiebreak, and at 3 points all, Bigos took over, winning the last four points to take the tiebreak 7 points to 3. The momentum remained with Bigos in the second set, as she broke to open the second set and didn't look back in taking it 6-1.
With Alabama only needing one more point to clinch the win, it was the lone senior Godwin who was closing in on delivering on court five against junior Jil Hastenrath. The first set was tied at 2-2, but Godwin rallied to take the last four games of the set, winning it 6-2. Hastenrath took a 3-1 lead in the second set, but she struggled to hold serve all match long, and could not consolidate her lead. Godwin broke serve again at 4-4, setting the stage to serve for the dual match win. She took a 40-15 lead in the game, but Hastenrath battled back to deuce. Finally, after several extended rallied and four match points, Godwin pulled through and clinched for the Tide 6-2, 6-4.
The last two matches of the night both went to three sets, and Auburn claimed them both. Emery and Molenveld were involved in a back and forth battle at the No. 4 spot before Emery retired with an injury. Molenveld won the opening set 6-2, but Emery fought back, taking the second set 6-3. The third set was on serve at 2-1 in favor of Molenveld when Emery retired. Finally, a battle of ranked players on court two ended in a dramatic third set. Haney, ranked No. 24 in the nation, came out victorious over McLane, who made her debut in the rankings at No. 122. McLane played from behind for most of the first set, but hung in and managed to break Haney at 5-5 and serve out the set. Haney bounced back, taking a 5-2 lead in the second. McLane rallied back for 4-5, but Haney held her off and forced a third set. In the final set, it was McLane who took the big lead, but she could not hang on. McLane staked a 4-1 lead in the set, but Haney took control from there, winning the set 6-4.
"This was an ultimate team effort," said head coach Jenny Mainz. "It was a storybook ending and the script could not have been written any better from Shelley on Senior Day. She wasn't going to leave today without a win. Everyone played a role today. Paulina's match was a pivotal win for us. I couldn't be more proud of this team."
Now the Tide awaits its first round pairing in the SEC Tournament, which will be held in Fayetteville, Ark. and begins on Thursday.
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