Kovacs And Colombo Are National Champs

Senior Mark Kovacs and freshman Andy Colombo are Auburn's first NCAA tennis champions.

College Station, Tex.--A senior from Victoria, Australia and a freshman from Rochester, N.Y., made Auburn University sports history on Sunday by winning the first NCAA men's tennis title in Tiger history.

Left-hander Mark Kovacs, who played his best college tennis in his final matches as a Tiger, teamed with big-serving freshman Andy Colombo to win the doubles crown. The Auburn duo defeated Scott Lipsky and David Martin of Stanford 6-2, 3-6 and 6-2 on Monday on the campus of Texas A&M University.

The Stanford doubles team was the No. 2 seed. Auburn's doubles champions were ranked 27th nationally following the regular season and were not one of the Top 16 seeds in the 64-team event. In the second round, Colombo and Kovacs knocked off the Tulane team that upset the No. 1 seed from UCLA and the Tigers marched through the draw getting stronger as the tournament progressed.

Andy Colombo

The Tigers opened with service honors and jumped on the Cardinal team early. Colombo, with his six-foot-three inch powerful frame and 130 miles per hour serve, held to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the first set. The Tigers wasted no time in getting their first service break for a 2-0 edge.

Kovacs, more of a finesse player at five-foot-11, has been serving better than ever in recent weeks and he held in his first service game to make the score 3-0. A second service break followed by Colombo's hold made the scoring a surprising 5-0, but Stanford got on the scoreboard with a hold to stop the bleeding. Lipsky and Martin then got a service break for their second game. However, Auburn broke back for a 6-2 first set victory.

The second set began with the teams holding service for four straight games before Stanford took its first lead of the match by breaking Colombo for a 3-2 lead. That set the stage for a 6-3 victory to even the match at one set apiece.

The Auburn team regrouped after a short break before the third set and stormed out to a quick lead with an opening game break followed by Colombo holding serve. The Tigers then put the pedal to the metal by breaking again for a 3-0 edge. "That was huge, very huge," said Auburn coach Eric Shore "It is very hard to come back from two breaks down, especially playing against a doubles team that was playing great like Mark and Andy were out there. The first break of the third set was huge and the second break put our guys in great shape."

Andy Colombo provided plenty of strength to the Tiger tandem with his powerful game.

Stanford finally held serve in its third try of the final set to cut the margin to 4-1, but Colombo's big serve was there when it was needed to stretch the Auburn lead to 5-1. Stanford then kept hope alive by holding to cut the advantage to 5-2.

With Kovacs serving and the game going to a deuce, the Tigers pulled out the victory with the 6-2 third set victory.

"They (Kovacs and Colombo) had an unbelievable start and we broke them right off the bat and then we went on to take a 5-0 lead," Shore said of AU's strong opening set. "In the second set, they (Stanford) picked up their level and then we picked up again in the third set. Our guys were on a mission this week. They really hung in there and I am so proud of them."

Mark Kovacs won praise from Eric Shore for his all-around play.

"I couldn't ask for a better ending to my college career," Kovacs said. "Some of the women's tennis team and some friends drove through the night from Auburn to be here for us and we pulled it out for them. We knew we could win this, but the Stanford guys really played solid. They are well coached, but luckily we were playing well enough to take advantage and get some points."

Colombo said, "This is very exciting. Mark played unbelievably well today and yesterday. Everyone told me that the semi-finals would probably be our hardest match of the tournament against Illinois and I was very nervous for it, but I wasn't as nervous for this match. My father and some of our friends came in to support us today and I always seem to play well when my dad is watching."

Colombo's father was in Auburn to see his son's team win the NCAA Regional with victories over East Tennessee and Mississippi State.

Kovacs and Colombo opened NCAA play with with a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 victory over 23rd-seed David Mercier and Nicholas Yip of Utah. In the second round, the Tigers defeated 19th-seed Michael Kogan and Victor Romero of Tulane, who had taken out the top-seed team, Marcin Matkowski and Jean-Julien Rojer of UCLA. Auburn took a 7-5, 7-5 victory over the Tulane team.

Mark Kovacs is shown serving for the Tigers.

Auburn reached the semi-finals with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Thomas Haug and Harsh Mankad of Minnesota, the 33rd seeded team. The Tigers then took a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Michael Calkins and Amer Delic of Illinois, the fourth seed.

Colombo and Kovacs played as the No. 2 Auburn doubles team during the season behind the higher ranked duo of Tiago Ruffoni and Rameez Junaid. However, the No. 1 AU team could not compete following the team competition due to an elbow injury to Ruffoni, but the No. 2 team of Colombo and Kovacs has been AU's hottest twosome the last month of the season. Before doubles play began on Thursday, Colombo predicted that he and Kovacs could make a serious run at the national title and that is exactly what happened.

In the singles final on Monday, top-ranked Matias Boeker of Georgia defeated Jesse Witten of Kentucky 7-5, 6-0 to make it an SEC sweep of the singles and doubles titles.

In the team competition last week, the Tigers advanced to the round of eight with a 4-3 victory over Washington before losing 4-0 to UCLA. Until Monday, Auburn's only other national tennis title was a 1999 victory at the ITA National Clay Court Championships, however, that event is not sponsored by the NCAA.

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