ATHENS, Ga. - The Vanderbilt men's tennis team, behind the pressure play of junior Chad Harris and sophomore Scott Brown, advanced to the NCAA Finals with a gut-wrenching victory over sixth-seeded UCLA 4-3 Monday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
In Tuesday's NCAA championship match at 4 p.m. (EST) Tuesday, the victorious Commodores take on top-seeded Illinois, which defeated Stanford 4-2 in Monday's other semifinal match. Vanderbilt will be seeking the first team national championship in university history.
"Hollywood screen writers not come up with a better script," said Head Coach Ken Flach, the ITA Southeast Region Coach of the Year. "This is an amazing and unbelievable feeling."
The 16th-ranked Harris, coming off an emotional win over No. 2-ranked Benedikt Dorsch of Baylor on Monday, stunned UCLA's Marcin Matkowski in a three-set thriller, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4. The clinching win came more than an hour all the other singles matches were completed. The third set of Harris' match was postponed by two rain delays.
"Marcin is a big hitter," said Harris. "I watched his match yesterday and I noticed that he gets a little tight when the match gets close. I tried to keep rallying throughout the match and he missed some shots. I am happy to come away with a win."
"Chad was up 4-1 today and the rain delay hurt us a little," said Flach. "Matkowski was a little tired and the rest helped him a lot. Chad did a great job of staying in there and fought hard the entire match."
Earlier in the match, Brown showed the heart of a champion against 37th-ranked Chris Lam. With the Commodores down 3-2 in the team score and Brown down one set, he battled back to win, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2. Brown, who won the decisive match against Baylor on Sunday, has won 21 matches this season for the Commodores.
Vandy got things rolling in doubles, as it won the key point for the 25th time in 29 opportunities. The No. 1 doubles team of junior Bobby Reynolds and sophomore Scott Brown clinched the teams split the two earlier matches. Reynolds and Brown defeated 24th-ranked Rodrigo Grilli and Marcin Matkow, 8-4.
Juniors Zach Dailey and Lewie Smith improved their dual-match record to 10-0 in defeating the Bruins' No. 3 team of Erfan Djahangiri and Alberto Francis, 8-4.
Reynolds, the top-ranked collegiate player in the country, got things started in singles. He picked up a straight-set win over fifth-ranked Tobias Clemens, 6-3, 6-4, at No. 1 singles. He improves his 2002-03 record to 43-6, which includes a 24-1 dual-match mark. Reynolds has also won ten straight matches.
With Vanderbilt leading the team competition 2-0, UCLA stormed back to win three consecutive matches. The 88th-ranked Djahangiri clinched the first point for the Bruins, defeating Dailey at the No. 5 position, 6-4, 6-3. The loss ended Dailey's 11-match winning streak.
UCLA's second point came at No. 6, as Lassi Ketola defeated Smith in convincing fashion, 6-1, 6-2. Smith had won six of his last seven matches entering the showdown with Ketola.
Sophomore Matt Lockin, who had won his last two matches for the Commodores, was upended by the 98th-ranked Grilli, 6-4, 7-5, at No. 3 singles. The 66th-ranked Lockin had scored two big wins the previous two days over players from Texas A&M and Baylor.
"I am so proud of our team," said Flach. "We made it to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four, and now we will be playing for the national championship. I have been so impressed with the way our players have handled the expectations placed upon them all season."