Men's Tennis Aims For The Big Prize

College Station, Tex.-- For the first time since the 1998 season, the Auburn Tigers are heading to the NCAA Championships final 16 in men's tennis.

The Tigers defeated East Tennessee State 4-2 and Mississippi State 4-0 in the first and second rounds in Auburn May 11 and 12 to advance. The Tigers hold a record of 19-7 overall and a national ranking of No. 13 heading into the tournament where they will meet up with No. 35 Washington in the Tigers' first match at 7 p.m. on Saturday May 18.

Washington is a surprise opponent for Auburn as they upset #5 Stanford in Palo Alto over the weekend to advance to the NCAA Championships. The Huskies are 19-6 overall and come in with a great deal of momentum thanks to their unlikely ousting of the Cardinal.

Auburn is led by coach Eric Shore, who has revived a program on the decline and made it one of the top in the South once again. In his 12 years at Auburn, he has led the Tigers to eight NCAA Tournament appearances, including the NCAA Final 16 in 1997 and 1998 and now 2002. Shore is just 30 wins away from becoming the winningest coach in Auburn history.

Mention wins as the name Tiago Ruffoni will come to mind when speaking of Auburn men's tennis. In his four seasons, he has accumulated a doubles win total of 89, which is just four wins shy of tying Auburn's all-time doubles wins record held by Stephen Huss. Ruffoni is also the Tigers clutch performer in singles with some of the biggest wins of the season. But perhaps his biggest win came last Saturday afternoon in the NCAA First Round match against Middle Tennessee State. Unable to serve overhand because of arm problems, Ruffoni defeated his opponent in straight sets to give his team a lift on the way to the win. His leadership will be key for the Tigers this weekend as they look for their first-ever national championship in men's tennis.

Sophomore Rameez Junaid, a First-Team All-SEC performer, has come on strong of late at number one singles and gives Auburn a legitimate threat at the top of the lineup. Also making the first team is the No. 11 nationally-ranked doubles team of senior Ruffoni and freshman Andrew Colombo. This was Junaid and Colombo's first appointment to the All-SEC team and is Ruffoni's second doubles honor, as he and former teammate Georges Matijasevic earned a spot in 2001.

Should Auburn win in the first round they would play the second-round match Saturday morning.

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