Bulldog Tennis Upset No. 4 Tennessee, 6-1

MSU men's tennis coach Per Nilsson talks one-on-one with Gene's Page about his team's upset of No. 4 ranked Tennessee Friday afternoon on the campus of Mississippi State University.

A 6-1 victory against the No. 4 ranked team in the country is a pretty dominant win.
"We took it to them. We really did. And we felt like we had a good chance to win if we played well. This was the first match in a long time where we all played well at the same time. And I told them, 'look what can happen when we do that.' Some of the matches weren't even that close. We took it to them. It was great."

It was pretty dominant wasn't it, both in singles and doubles?
"We lost a total of three sets in singles. And we won twelve. And we won doubles today. We had been struggling in doubles. We are finally starting to see some things that we like. We have a good, tough singles team. If we can get the doubles going, then we are a really good team. We could compete with anyone in the country."

What was your strategy coming into the match?
"(Laugh) The strategy was to play to win, which we didn't do against Florida. We put ourselves in a good position against Florida and I actually thought we were going to win that match 5-2 in the middle of the match. But we played tentatively. And we talked about that before this match and I told them let's not do that again. Let's go out and win on our terms. Or, play on our terms. And we all did."

Artem Ilyushin won at the No. 1 spot over the No. 12 ranked player in the nation. He just keeps winning his matches.
"That was a great win. The guy he defeated has been top 5 in the country the last four years. And he's been number 1 in the country as well."

Do you think your team has arrived?
"Yes, I think so. We have been talking about how everybody says we have a good team but we still hadn't proven that we could beat a top school. We are always battling with them and getting close. But we felt like it was just a matter of time before we got it. We had it the other day but didn't pull it through. But it looked like we were going to refuse to lose today. It was awesome."

Going back to this match, did you think this match would be so lopsided?
"I didn't expect this one to be 6-1 because in these matches it's just a few points here or there. Today, we won those points."

Fan support was great today, wasn't it?
"We have a sorority challenge. We had 'Think Pink' with the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority today. In the beginning they weren't really sure how to cheer at our matches, so I sent one of our guys up into the stands and he did a quick guide on what they could do. Then they got going and I think they really enjoyed it. It helped. We think it's one of the most fun sports on campus to watch. You just have to come out and check it out."

You have Georgia coming in Sunday. It doesn't get any easier does it?
"Georgia is ranked 8th and it doesn't get any easier. But we are looking forward to it. I hope this shows our guys that we can hang with anyone, and we can beat anyone. They just have to go and take it. They can't just expect the good teams to give it to them."

You've been on great teams before at other places. How much does a win like this affect a team? It has to give them a lot of confidence in themselves.
"It was the same way at Pepperdine. We lost a ton of 4-3 matches there the year we became good. We knew all we needed to do was get over the hump on just one of them. And it's been similar here. We lost 4-3 to Texas A&M and we lost 4-3 to Baylor, both top 15 schools. And we lost 4-3 to (No. 19th ranked) Florida. If we get one it could change a lot of things for us. And we got this one (against Tennessee)."

What is the potential for this team?
"We aren't losing anyone on this team this year, so they will all be back next year."

I'm actually talking about the potential this year, not next year. I'm talking about possible national championship.
"That's why (assistant coach) Matt (Hill) and I are coaching. We aren't coaching to be number 2. We are coaching to be number 1 and have a chance to win it."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

STARKVILLE, Miss. – The Mississippi State men's tennis program earned one of its biggest wins in a decade Friday afternoon as the 32nd-ranked Bulldogs notched an incredible 6-1 victory over fourth-ranked Tennessee at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre on campus.

The win, which came on the heels of MSU's tough 4-3 loss to #19 Florida last weekend, improved the Bulldogs to 10-6 overall and 5-2 in the Southeastern Conference. The powerful Volunteer squad suffered just its third defeat of 2011 and first in SEC play, falling to 16-3, 6-1 in the league. The victory was State's first over a top 4 opponent since 2002, when the Sylvain Guichard-led Bulldogs upset #4 Kentucky 4-3 in Lexington.

"I think now we know that we can hang with the best teams in the country," MSU head coach Per Nilsson said. "I think everybody has seen that we have been making improvements by getting good players back out here again and putting together solid teams. We just haven't won a big one until now.

"The guys did a great job…they were amazing today. Everything came together and everybody had a chance. It was very close though – Tennessee has a great team and they could have easily won a few that would have swung the match in their favor."

State came out firing in doubles Friday. MSU, which had won the doubles point only five times in 15 matches this season, went up against a strong Vols lineup that had claimed the point in 15 of their 18 contests coming in.

UT took the first match, with the nation's top-ranked team of Boris Conkic and John-Patrick Smith ousting 84th-ranked Bulldogs Louis Cant and Malte Stropp 8-3. State evened things when George Coupland and Artem Ilyuhsin paired to upset 61st-ranked Vols Tennys Sandgren and Rhyne Williams by the same score at #2. All eyes then turned to court 3, where Bulldogs James Chaudry and Zach White fought hard to earn a 9-8(2) tiebreak win over Vols Matteo Fago and Jarryd Chaplin.

The Bulldogs rode the momentum from doubles into singles and took control of the match early by claiming the first set in four of the six singles matches, all in some very close contests.

Tennessee would even the match at 1-1 when Sandgren, ranked 48th nationally, bested MSU's Chaudry at the No. 3 position 6-4, 6-2. But that would be the only point the Vols would record all afternoon, as State finished the matches in which it had gained a lead in straight sets.

Putting the Bulldogs up 2-1 was Cant, who gained his sixth-consecutive win. Ranked 77th nationally, the junior overcame a 4-1 deficit in the first set to come back and win 7-5, 6-0 over UT's 121st-ranked Conkic at the No. 5 spot. Not too long after that, MSU's94th-ranked Ilyushin played a very focused affair to upset UT's 12th-ranked Smith at the top spot in the lineup 6-4, 6-4. It was the highest-ranked win for the Bulldog junior during his career and gave State a 3-1 advantage.

The final three matches on court were all very tight, with MSU holding one-set leads in two of them, but UT was charging back in both.

Stropp, the State freshman from Dusseldorf, Germany, would get the clinching point for the Bulldogs. After winning the first set 6-4 at No. 4, he found himself down 3-1 in the second to UT's 56th-ranked Fago, but battled back to win five of the last six games for a 6-4, 6-4 victory that gave the Bulldogs the big win. It was Stropp's sixth-straight win and the highest-ranked triumph of his young career.

After the match had been clinched, MSU's 76th-ranked Coupland gained a win over fourth-ranked Vol Williams at the No. 2 spot when Williams defaulted with Coupland leading 7-6(6), 5-6. MSU would complete the day's action with another win from a rookie, as White rallied for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 triumph over Chaplin at No. 6.

"We had an incredible atmosphere today (from our fans) and it really helps firing the guys up," Nilsson said. "We need another big crowd Sunday when we host another talented top 10 team in Georgia."

The Bulldog tennis squad will meet the No. 9 Bulldogs from Athens Sunday at 1 p.m. CT at the Pitts Tennis Centre.

#32 Mississippi State 6, #4 TENNESSEE 1 April 1, 2011 – Starkville Miss.

DOUBLES – #1 Boris Conkic/John-Patrick Smith (UT) def. #84 Louis Cant/Malte Stropp (MSU) 8-3; George Coupland/Artem Ilyushin (MSU) def. #61 Tennys Sandgren/Rhyne Williams (UT) 8-3; James Chaudry/Zach White (MSU) def. Jarryd Chaplin/Matteo Fago (UT) 9-8(2). Order of finish: 1,2,3.

SINGLES – #94 Ilyushin (MSU) def. #12 Smith (UT) 6-4, 6-4; #76 Coupland (MSU) def. #4 Williams (UT) 7-6(6), 5-6(ret.); #48 Sandgren (UT) def. Chaudry (MSU) 6-4, 6-2; Stropp (MSU) def. #56 Fago (UT) 6-3, 6-4; #77 Cant (MSU) def. #121 Conkic (UT) 7-5, 6-0; White (MSU) def. Chaplin (UT) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Order of finish: 3,5,1,4,2,6.

Source: MSU Media Relations

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