Tennis Tigers Fall Short On Bid For Final Four

West Coast power UCLA ended Auburn's quest to win the men's national team title in tennis. However, the Tigers are not done yet with the 2001-2002 tennis season.

College Station, Tex.--Fourth seed UCLA showed that its ranking was deserved with a 4-0 victory over the Auburn Tigers on Sunday evening to move into the semi-finals of the NCAA Men's Tennis Team Championship.

The Bruins, who finished second in the final regular season Top 25 poll, improved to 22-4 this season. Auburn ended the team portion of its season with a 20-7 mark. The Tigers were the 12th seed and advanced to Sunday's match vs. UCLA with an exciting 4-3 victory over Washington.

"We just ran into a better team out there today," says Auburn Coach Eric Shore. "UCLA is the most talented team I have seen this season."

The Bruins, who are the Pac 10 champions, won two of the three doubles matches to earn the single point awarded for doubles. Auburn's No. 2 team of Andy Colombo and Mark Kovacs was the first to finish with an 8-4 victory over Tobias Clemens and Lassi Ketola, the nation's 29th-ranked doubles team. Colombo and Kovacs are rated 27th.

UCLA got the momentum going by pulling out the No. 1 and No. 3 doubles matches. Marcin Matkowski and Jean-Julien Rojer, the nation's top rated doubles team, defeated Auburn's Rameez Junaid and Tiago Ruffoni by an 8-6 score. AU's top team is ranked 13th in doubles and was actually up a service break on the Bruins even though Ruffoni's elbow was hurting so much that he had to serve underhanded. "That was a bit much to ask against the nation's top rated doubles team," Shore says.

At three doubles, Andre Boz and Estevam Strecker fell 8-5 to Rodrigio Grilli and Alberto Francis of UCLA.

The Bruins stretched their lead to 2-0 with 22nd-ranked Matkowski taking a 6-1, 6-0 victory at No. 3 singles over AU senior Ruffoni, who has been playing for three weeks with an elbow injury that has reduced his effectiveness. He is ranked 50th in singles, but has shown he can defeat Top 10 caliber opponents when healthy.

Two more straight sets victories helped the Bruins close out the Tigers without major worries of an AU comeback like the one Auburn pulled on Saturday night against UCLA's Pac-10 rival, the Washington Huskies.

At four singles, senior Mark Kovacs fell 6-4, 6-1 to 68th-ranked Rojer. At five singles, another Tiger senior, Estevam Strecker, went down by scores of 6-3, 6-4 to Erfan Djhangiri.

Junaid will compete in the singles competition following the team event, which wraps up on Tuesday. Ruffoni is an alternate in singles, but will play in doubles with Junaid. Kovacs and Colombo will also compete as a doubles team.

Coach Eric Shore

"This is a special team and I am happy for the seniors," Shore says. "Anytime you can get to the final 16 in the country, it is a great season. This team did that and more. They came to nationals and played well."

Freshman Andy Colombo helped pull out a victory for the Tigers at two doubles.

Colombo lost his first set in singles but rallied and won the second set vs. the Pac 10 champion. "I came out a little flat in singles, but I played well in the second set against a strong player and I thought I was going to win it if the match hadn't been halted when the team victory was clinched," he says. "We played well and fought hard. UCLA has a very good team and a very deep team and they have three players in the Top 30 in the country so they are tough.

"With Tiago hurting and serving underhanded, it made it just that much tougher for us to win. We are disappointed we didn't win, but we are proud of how we played this season as a team. We played real well on Saturday night vs. Washington with the match on the line and that was exciting."

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