Another Close Call

After No. 10 Ole Miss beat Arkansas 4-3 Saturday to advance to the second round of the ITA National Team Indoor, overheard was a Rebel fan who said, "I think it's going to be a nervous year."

If Ole Miss' first two matches of the season are an indication, the UM loyalist may be right. The Rebels also beat Mississippi State 4-3 last Monday night in Jackson to stand 2-0 on the young season.

The positive is that Ole Miss is indeed winning its matches, and both have been against Southeastern Conference opposition. The negative might be that both victories came against two teams picked at the bottom of the SEC Western Division - Arkansas 5th and State 6th.

Neither the MSU nor Arkansas matches count in the official SEC standings. They are counted as non-conference matches.

Of course, the Rebels were in their usual spot in the preseason as the favorite to win the West for the ninth consecutive year. For the first time this season, they venture outside the league to play either Indiana or Columbia, a match that was still going on Saturday night.

The Rebels and either Hoosiers or Lions play at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Gillom Center on campus.

Ole Miss head coach Billy Chadwick said his squad gutted out another tough one against the Razorbacks, just as it did against the Bulldogs.

In each match the Rebs lost the important doubles point but bounced back to win four of the six singles matches to claim victory.

"That's college tennis," said Chadwick, who admits to some nervousness as his young Rebels continue to grow this season. "It's so close. Just a hit here or a hit there as to who is going to win it. I like this team proving we can win four out of six singles."

After the Rebels' No. 3 doubles team of Harry Fowler and Adrian Forberg Skokeng won 8-4, the other doubles tandems went into a tiebreaker. Both lost to Arkansas as Marcel Thiemann and Chris Thiemann lost at No. 2 by a 9-8(6) count, while Tucker Vorster and Jonas Lutjen lost at No. 1 by a 9-8(5) final.

The Rebels were fairly dominant in singles taking two of the first three matches. At No. 3 Lutjen won 6-2, 6-2, and at No. 2 Marcel Thiemann won 6-1, 6-4. Vorster at No. 1 fell 6-3, 6-3, and the overall match was tied 2-2.

In the final three matches of the day, Fowler lost 6-1, 1-6, 1-6 at No. 5, and the Razorbacks led 3-2. But, as they had against MSU, the Rebels' last players on came through. Chris Thiemann won 6-3, 6-3 at No. 6, and Forberg Skokeng won 7-5, 6-2 at No. 4.

"It was a great feeling," said freshman Forberg Skokeng. "It was good that I could close it out on my serve. It's definitely harder when you have to win four of the six singles matches. But we are strong top to bottom, and we know we can win every match."

Chris Thiemann was the player who had closed out the victory against Mississippi State to clinch the Rebels' 24th consecutive win against their arch rival.

"It was really disappointing that we didn't win the doubles point again," said Chris, one of the German twins. "Like Adrian said, it's hard to win four of six singles matches. But we played a little better today than we did against State."

Sunday afternoon, the Rebels will be aiming for their 17th consecutive Final 16 appearance in the ITA National Team Indoor Tournament, which will be played in Charlottesville, Va., Feb. 12-15.

"There was improvement in our play today," Chadwick said. "Both of the teams we could play (Sunday) look to be at the same level as the teams we played in our last two matches. So we expect another close one Sunday."

Chadwick added that having his team win its first two matches against SEC competition is significant.

"And the thing that is also important," he added, "is that these guys are learning to win the close matches and starting to believe in themselves."

Lone senior Kalle Norberg, who has had a recurring back problem, did not play again. Chadwick was not sure if he would play Sunday.

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