*** Kim Ling - UM athletics media relations
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The No. 3 overall seeded Ole Miss men's tennis team got strong play from its top player, Catalin Gard, who led the Rebels to a 4-2 win over 14th-seeded Texas Tech in the NCAA "Sweet Sixteen" here Saturday morning at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center. The Rebels advance to the Elite Eight where they will face the No. 6 seed, Georgia, a 4-0 winner over LSU, in the quarterfinals Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Rebels, who moved to 24-3 on the season, are in the Elite Eight for the seventh time and the first time since 2003. Ole Miss also reached the quarterfinals in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 prior to 2003. Texas Tech ends their best season ever at 25-4.
Ole Miss is one win away from tying the best ever season by a Rebel squad. The 1997 team went 25-3.
"It was a great college match," head coach Billy Chadwick said. "The atmosphere was very good. We were fortunate to beat a very tough Texas Tech team. The guys had to put everything they had into it. We were lucky to close it out, because it was starting to get very hot out there."
The Rebels got the opening point to take a 1-0 lead. Gard and Eric Claesson got an early break against Tech's No. 1 team. After being broken themselves, the Reb duo broke again and held serve to post an 8-2 win. With the No. 2 match tied at 6-6, the Reb freshmen, Jakob Klaeson and Bram ten Berge, defeated Tech's Michael Innerebner and Jakob Paulsen 8-5 on court three. The two teams traded breaks, but at 5-5, the Reb duo broke and held to go up 7-5. On match point, ten Berge hit a return winner to clinch the match and the first point. It marked the second straight match for ten Berge and Klaeson to clinch the doubles point.
"We were very prepared to play doubles," Gard said. "We knew if we broke them early it would be to our advantage. We broke them right away, but they broke back. We broke again and held serve. The momentum helped the other two courts and we were able to get the first point."
Ole Miss improved to 19-0 this season when winning the doubles point and 62-3 since 2002.
The Rebels boast one of the nation's top players in Gard, ranked No. 4, and with freshman Erling Tveit and Juan Pablo Di Cesare, the three have combined to post 60 wins in the lineup. Those three got it done to lead the Rebels to the "Sweet Sixteen," and they did it again Saturday to propel Ole Miss to the quarterfinals.
Gard downed TTU's Radek Nijak, ranked No. 20 in the nation, 6-2, 6-3 to make it 2-0 Ole Miss. With the win, Gard improved to 23-3 at No. 1 singles and won his ninth in a row.
Texas Tech got on the board when Innerebner defeated sophomore Fredrik Aarum 6-4, 6-3 at No. 5 singles.
Freshman Erling Tveit put the Rebels within one point (3-1) of clinching the match with his 6-4, 7-5 win over Red Raider, Paulsen, at No. 3 singles. Tveit became the second Rebel to win his 20th dual match of the season, improving to 20-3, 16-2 at No. 3 singles.
The Red Raiders pulled to within 3-2 after winning on court six. Ole Miss' ten Berge jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but the Red Raider, Demitrio Martinez, won 10 of the next 12 games and went on to win 7-6(1), 6-1. Ten Berge was playing in his first singles match since March 13.
All eyes turned to court four where Rebel Juan Pablo Di Cesare had just broke Tech's Esat Tanik at 5-5 and was about to serve for the match. He went up 40-0 and then hit a kick serve which Tanik missed into the net, clinching the 4-2 Rebel win.
Di Cesare improved to 20-3 in dual matches and won his second consecutive clinching point, as he also clinched the win over Auburn in the second round.
"Right before I started to serve, coach appeared," Di Cesare said. "I looked at the guys and they were guiding me on what I had to do. That kind of took my mind off what was taking place and help me focus on what I needed to do."
"The thing that is so impressive with Pablo is that he has made so much improvement from last year to this year," Chadwick said. "Last year, I don't know if he closes that match out. This year, I am betting the farm on it. If it comes down to it, Pablo is going to win. Another comforting thing, is that I am sitting there looking at both players, and one of them looks like he just ran a marathon and Pablo's looking fresh, to be in the second set. If he doesn't hold serve, I am thinking we'll beat them in the long distance.
"If you look back at the match, Cat had a fabulous day," Chadwick said. "He controlled the doubles match and took control in the singles. Texas Tech was expecting to win at No. 1 doubles and No. 1 singles. That was the difference in the match."
The Rebels must now get ready to face the only team to beat them during the regular season SEC schedule. The Bulldogs handed LSU a 4-0 loss and boast the No. 1 doubles tandem in the nation in John Isner and Antonio Ruiz.
"We have a lot of respect for Georgia," Chadwick said. "We know them really well, obviously. We lost to them at their place during the regular season. They beat us so bad in doubles, it wasn't even close. We are going to have to be better tomorrow. They took the doubles from LSU, and LSU has great doubles. The big guy (Isner) at No. 1 is strong. He's tough. He's pro material. We are looking forward to the match."
The Rebels will be looking to advance to their fourth Final Four and first since 1999. They reached the championship match in 1995 and the semifinals in 1997 before their third appearance in '99.
#1 Gard/Claesson (OM) def. Nijak/Szumanski (TTU) 8-2
#2 Tveit/Aarum (OM) vs. Prpic/Tanik (TTU) 6-6
#3 Klaeson/ten Berge (OM) def. Innerebner/Paulsen (TTU) 8-5
#1 Catalin Gard (OM) def. Radek Nijak (TTU) 6-2, 6-3
#2 Eric Claesson (OM) vs. Bojan Szumanski (TTU) 0-6, 4-5
#3 Erling Tveit (OM) def. Jakob Paulsen (TTU) 6-4, 7-5
#4 Juan Pablo Di Cesare (OM) def. Esat Tanik (TTU) 7-5, 6-4
#5 Michael Innerebner (TTU) def. Fredrik Aarum (OM) 6-4, 6-3
#6 Demitrio Martinez (TTU) def. Bram ten Berge (OM) 7-6(1), 6-1
Rebs advance to Elite Eight
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