All morning Ole Miss worried that it might have to play its first-round match against Jacksonville State in the NCAA Men's Tennis Regional indoors. That turned out to be the only worry the Rebels had as they took care of the Gamecocks 4-0.
"The weather cooperated and we had a great crowd," Ole Miss Coach Billy Chadwick said. "Even when you feel like you have a better team than someone else, it's still important to close out the match. It's not over 'til it's over, and we didn't allow this one to get close."
Ole Miss (22-3) jumped out to a 1-0 lead by winning 8-2 at No. 2 doubles and 8-3 at No. 3 doubles. They never looked back.
Between the doubles and singles, the Rebels recognized Wilson Montjoy, who lettered for the Rebel netters in 1929-31 and captained the '31 team. Current team captain Catalin Gard presented Montjoy a 2005 SEC Championship cap with the inscription "Captain - '31" on the side.
Following the presentation, Gard and his teammates took to the courts for singles and made quick work of the Gamecocks (14-10). Gard cruised to a 6-0, 6-2 win at No.1 singles against JSU's Vedran Sirola. The win gave Gard, the nation's No. 4 ranked player, his 80th career dual match victory.
"It was a great day, and we're happy we could play outside," Gard said. "We appreciate everyone coming out today and supporting us. We hope we will have another good day and a good crowd on Sunday."
Freshman Erling Tveit, playing in his first NCAA Championships, made it 3-0 when he downed Rodney Rapson 6-2, 6-2 at No. 3 singles. Within seconds, sophomore Eric Claesson finished off Arturo Nieto 6-1, 6-2 to clinch the win.
When Ole Miss and Jacksonville State finished their match, Auburn and Middle Tennessee were still playing nearly five hours after they began indoors at the Gillom Sports Center due to early rain. Auburn won a tiebreaker at No. 1 doubles to take a 1-0 lead. They won at No. 1 singles in straight sets to make it 2-0, but MTSU answered with wins at Nos. 2 and 3 to square the match.
Auburn went up 3-2 with a straight-set win at No. 6 singles, but Middle Tennessee's Anant Sitaram came back to beat Robert Lathouwers, 6-7, 6-2, 6-2 at No. 4 singles to even the score, with court five left.
It appeared the match would come down to a decisive third set on court five. Auburn's Tom George gained the first set against Greg Pollack 6-4, but he trailed 3-5 in the second set before reeling off four straight games to clinch the 4-3 victory.
This marks the second time in three postseasons for Ole Miss and Auburn to meet in the second round. The Rebels defeated the Tigers 4-0 in the 2003 regional final in Oxford and ultimately advanced to the Elite Eight in Athens, Ga.
"I'm real proud of the effort of the guys today," Chadwick said. "They've been working hard leading into this match, and I think it showed today."
Chadwick says Sunday's 1 p.m. match, with the winner advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in College Station, Texas, will be a hard-fought battle.
"It's always tough playing a team a second time," Chadwick said, whose team won at Auburn 6-1 earlier this season. "These are very good teams that are in this regional, and this will be just like another SEC match for us. Our guys are determined, and we'll see what tomorrow brings."
Rebels advance in men's tennis
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