A Q&A With MSU Tennis Coach Per Nilsson

Mississippi State men's tennis coach Per Nilsson talks one-on-one with Gene's Page about his team defeating Ole Miss by an impressive score of 5-2 and the upcoming Southeastern Conference tennis tournament.

That was a big victory. Once again you dominated your opponent.
"I thought we did. The doubles was close but after that I thought we really took it to them. You just told me that we won the first set on every court. I think maybe once we won them we lost a little focus and lost two of them. But I'll take a 5-2 win."

You've now easily won your last three matches after losing two one-point losses to two highly ranked teams.
"We felt like we let those two matches slip away. Our goal is to go into the NCAA tournament playing the best tennis we have all year. And I feel like we have improved since those two losses. We aren't there yet, but we are getting there, though."

If you were an opposing coach would you want to play Mississippi State right now?
"No, I don't think anyone wants to play us. And that is on our goal sheet. We want to be the one team everybody doesn't want to see on the draw on May 3rd."

Talk about the upcoming SEC tournament.
"We have a bye so we will not play until Friday. We will play the winner of Florida and Arkansas game."

How will you go about preparing for the tournament?
"We will be down there when they play, so we will watch them and scout them. But we know everybody in the SEC pretty well. Whoever we play we will be ready for them."

Today was senior day. Talk about your three seniors - Antonio Lastre, Tanner Stump, Max Gregor-Smith - and what they have meant to your program.
"All three of them have been amazing for us. They didn't get to play today but they help out in the stands. They get the crowd going. They have won matches for us in the past, clinched matches. It's sad to see them go but I know they will be very successful in the future."

I realize the season is not over but the regular season is. How satisfying has it been for you?
"It is really gratifying to see their hard work start paying off. (Assistant coach) Matt (Hill) and I have put our souls into this and felt like this might happen last year. But we are building slowly and not try to rush things and I think that is the way to do it. You just take your time and do it right."

What did the crowd mean to the your team today? It was standing-room only and a very vocal crowd.
"I am so happy that they got to see how much fun it is out here. It is a really fun sport for a crowd to come and watch. And I think Ole Miss enjoyed playing in front of all of these people. I know we do when we are on the road. But to be at home and to see (such a huge crowd) is amazing."

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. - In front of a standing room-only crowd at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre Saturday afternoon, Mississippi State's 21st-ranked men's tennis team completed the 2011 regular season emphatically, downing 30th-ranked arch rival Ole Miss 5-2.

With the win, State improved to 13-7 overall and concluded the Southeastern Conference regular season at 8-3 in the league, winning the Western Division outright by going a perfect 5-0 against the division this season. On a major roll of late, the Bulldogs have now won eight of their last 10 contests.

With the loss, the Rebels fell to 11-8, 5-6 in SEC play.

State will now turn its attention to the 2011 SEC Championship, to be held April 21-24 in Gainesville, Fla. With Saturday's win, MSU earned the #4 seed in the tournament, the team's highest since being the #3 seed in 1998. The Bulldogs, who receive a first-round bye on Thursday, will face the winner of fifth-seeded host Florida (ranked 16th) and 12th-seeded Arkansas next Friday, April 22, at 3 p.m. ET at Florida's Ring Tennis Complex.

"I am extremely proud of our guys' effort today, including our three first-year players James, Malte and Zach providing the three points early in singles to clinch the match," MSU head coach Per Nilsson said. "Everyone really showed up and focused to win this huge match against our rival and we proved, without a doubt, that we are the Western Division champions. We're going to enjoy this for a little while and then turn our attention to more important business at the SEC Tournament next week."

State got the opening doubles point Saturday in a classic battle. After the teams had traded 8-3 wins at the No. 2 and 3 positions (36th-ranked Bulldogs George Coupland and Artem Ilyushin won at No. 2), all eyes turned to the top spot. With ninth-ranked Rebels Chris and Marcel Theimann leading 7-5, State's 53rd-ranked duo of Louis Cant and Malte Stropp roared back to win the next four games and claim an exciting 9-7 victory to put MSU up 1-0 in the contest.

The Bulldogs carried their momentum from doubles into singles, winning the first set at all six singles positions to set up the team victory. Giving MSU a 2-0 advantage was James Chaudry with a 6-1, 6-2 triumph at the No. 3 singles position over UM's Kalle Norberg.

Two MSU freshmen would then complete the victory for the Bulldogs, finishing within minutes of each other. Rookie Zach White put State up 3-0 by finishing off a 6-4, 6-2 win at No. 6 over Rebel Skogeng. The match clincher would then come from the newcomer Stropp, who won his 10th-straight match with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over Ole Miss' Jonas Lutjen at the No. 4 spot.

The last three matches on court would all split sets and be determined in third set super-tiebreakers.

The teams completed play on courts 1 and 2 almost simultaneously. The Rebels grabbed their first point of the day at No. 2 where 98th-ranked Tucker Vorster upended MSU's 55th-ranked Coupland 3-6, 6-4, 1-0(6) in a tough battle. State's 66th-ranked Ilyushin then claimed a similar affair 6-4, 3-6, 1-0(8), upsetting 36th-ranked Rebel Marcel Theimann at the top spot in the lineup.

The last point of the afternoon went to Ole Miss, with Chris Theimann outlasting State's 76th-ranked Cant at the No. 5 spot 4-6, 7-6(4), 1-0(5), halting Cant's impressive win streak at nine matches.

April 16, 2011 – Starkville, Miss.

DOUBLES – #53 Louis Cant/Malte Stropp (MSU) def. #9 Christoph Theimann/Marcel Theimann (UM) 9-7; #36 George Coupland/Artem Ilyushin (MSU) def. Johan Backstrom/Adrian Skogeng (UM) 8-3; Kalle Norberg/Tucker Vorster (UM) def. James Chaudry/Zach White (MSU). Order of finish: 2,3,1.

SINGLES –#66 Ilyushin (MSU) def. #36 M. Theimann (UM) 6-4, 3-6, 1-0(8); #98 Vorster (UM) def. #55 Coupland (MSU) 4-6, 6-3, 1-0(6); Chaudry (MSU) def. Norberg (UM) 6-1, 6-2; #89 Stropp (MSU) def. Jonas Lutjen (UM) 7-5, 6-2; C. Theimann (UM) def. #76 Cant (MSU) 4-6, 7-6(4), 1-0(5); White (MSU) def. Skogeng (UM) 6-4, 6-2. Order of finish: 3,6,4,2,1,5.

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