Rebel tennis team on a bit of a roll

The Ole Miss men's tennis team beat Auburn Sunday 7-0 after beating Alabama Friday 7-0 and South Carolina five days before that 7-0. With three shutouts in a row, the Rebs are on a roll.

There were only about 150 of us out there, and maybe less, watching Sunday afternoon as Ole Miss beat Auburn in men's tennis on a blustery but warm day in Oxford. There were only a few more than that on Friday afternoon as the Rebels beat Alabama. Spring break, no students, and with few faculty in town will do that to a crowd.

The Rebels, who slipped to 8th nationally in the latest poll, are actually on quite a roll. After falling at Florida in the rematch (the Rebs won earlier in Seattle indoors; the Gators won the SEC opener in Gainesville), Ole Miss hasn't lost a single match with three consecutive shutouts of 7-0 – at South Carolina after the Florida match and then these two this weekend in Oxford. That's an awfully tough thing to do playing in the best tennis conference in the land.

From top to bottom and even in doubles, where the Rebs have had a harder time than they should have over the years, they've been impressive.

Against Auburn, Ole Miss, now 11-2 on the season, played well in the doubles and won that point. In singles, No. 1 Rebel Erling Tveit lost the first set to Auburn's No. 1 player Joseph Alex Schweizer 4-6 but rallied to win the next two sets 6-4 and 6-2 to take the match.

Tveit is a 6-foot-3, strong, physical, left-hander from Norway who is only a sophomore. He has a chance to be one of the best ever in Ole Miss history before leaving. He's 12-1 in singles matches since this season began in January.

"Erling was able to regroup (after losing the first set on Sunday) and then really play well in that third set," said Ole Miss head coach Billy Chadwick. "I was proud of him for finding a way to win when maybe he wasn't at his best."

Tveit said he indeed wasn't at his best but managed to fight through it and claim the victory.

"It took a while," he said. "I wasn't moving my feet well in the first set, and it was windy early. That seemed to affect me. And he (Schweizer) played pretty well."

Tveit said he continued to pick up his own game as the match went on.

"I started playing a little better and I began to turn it around," he said. "He seemed to make some errors and appeared to get a little tired. Those were also factors in the outcome."

Junior Eric Claesson at No. 2, the same position he played last season, is a unique player to watch. With a slow serving motion as he raises his racket skyward, and throws the ball up, finally, Claesson is a picture of slow, methodical effort and play.

No better example of that than Sunday when the animated Swede, who has attracted his own fan base in three seasons here, won in two sets over Tiger Robbert Lathouwers. But both sets went to tiebreak and Claesson won them 7-6, 7-6. Even though two other singles matches went three sets, Claesson's win was the final match of the day to finish, nearly three hours after it began.

"Eric was his usual solid self," Chadwick said. "He took a long time to win it but took care of business. We expect that from him."

Chadwick was impressed with sophomore Bram ten Berge's 6-4, 6-4 win over Auburn's Nick Lane at No. 3.

"Bram did a great job," he said of the Dutch player ten Berge. "Auburn's strongest positions have been the kids at 2 and 3. The kid at 5 has also been strong."

The No. 5 Tiger, Pawel Dilaj, was defeated by former Mississippian Robbye Poole, the sophomore transfer to Ole Miss from Clemson, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.

At No. 4 singles, Juan Pablo Di Cesare of Argentina defeated Milan Krnjetin of Auburn 6-4, 7-5.

At No. 6 singles, sophomore Jakob Klaeson of Sweden continued his improving play with a victory over Lukas Marsoun 7-5, 6-3. Klaeson struggled some last spring and also this past fall. But then he began to show signs of playing much better, and that has been the case the past few matches.

"I'm actually playing pretty well right now. At least I know where the ball is going this year," said the personable Klaeson, joking, laughing. "I had some carryover from the fall. I always play well indoors, and I feel like it's continuing outdoors. It's great to know when you step on the court you have a good chance to win and have that confidence."

The win Sunday was the 18th consecutive victory for the Rebels against Auburn, which fell to 8-4 on the season and 2-2 in conference play. The Tigers haven't beaten Ole Miss in men's tennis since 1993.

Ole Miss is an amazing 22-0 against SEC Western Division foes since 2002. The Rebels have now won 30 straight regular season home matches dating back to April 6, 2003.

But it's never as easy as just showing up and playing, according to Chadwick, even when the scores read 7-0 his team's way

"Unless you're here at the matches, you just don't know how really close they are," said Chadwick, whose team has a non-conference match up next at the University of West Florida in Pensacola Friday at 2 p.m. before returning to Oxford for another non-conference match against Memphis on Wednesday, March 22, at 2 p.m. "This was a good Auburn team. It feels good to be 3-1 in the SEC."

So the next two weeks as they play a couple of non-conference matches before heading back into SEC action, the Rebels want to pace themselves, work hard, win these two against West Florida and Memphis, and be ready for the late-season push in SEC play.

"We're playing well right now, and we obviously hope that continues," said Chadwick, whose program has won the SEC overall title the past two seasons and the SEC West crown four straight years. "The best compliment you can give a team is what the Alabama coach said to me Friday. He said ‘Your guys just fight so hard every single match.' And that was the way it was again today against Auburn. Often times that's just the difference in teams winning and losing.

"Man, we fought hard again today, and I was proud of 'em."

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