ATHENS, Ga. - Vanderbilt's men's tennis team fell short in its attempt to win the school's first team national title, as the Commodores fell to top-ranked Illinois in the NCAA National Championship match 4-3 Tuesday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
The Commodores conclude the 2003 season with an overall mark of 27-4, while the Fighting Illini finish with a perfect 32-0 mark. For Illinois, it was its first national championship in men's tennis.
With the team score tied at 3-3, both team's hopes rested on their No. 6 singles players. It was only fitting for the match to come down to Vanderbilt junior Lewie Smith and Illinois sophomore Chris Martin, who put on an incredible show for the capacity crowd. Both players split the first two sets, 4-6, 6-4.
With both players battling back and forth, Martin was able to grab a break of serve in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead. With Martin leading 5-4, Smith was able to win the first three points on Martin's serve. However, Martin fought his way back into the game and got the score to deuce. After Smith let another break point slip by, Martin was able to grab a match point. During the point, Martin hit a shot which seemed to go barely deep, but when Smith called it out the official overruled the call. The call ended up being the decisive point in the match.
"The match wasn't won or lost on that one call," Vanderbilt head coach Ken Flach said. "We had other chances but we fell short."
The Commodores started the match off by winning the doubles point to grab the early advantage. Junior Bobby Reynolds, who was named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, and sophomore Scott Brown won the first match for the Commodores, as they defeated 11th-ranked Amer Delic and Michael Calkins, 8-5.
The clinching match in doubles was won by Smith and junior Zach Dailey at No. 3 doubles. After falling behind 3-0 to Phil Stolt and Martin, Smith and Dailey roared back to take a 4-3 lead - one it would not relinquish. Smith and Dailey finish the year with a dual-match record of 11-0. The Commodores finish the year having won 25 of 29 doubles points.
"Heading into the singles we had the momentum and the adrenaline rush," Flach said. "After that, we fell into a lull and that might have hurt us. When we got out of our lull, it was just a little too late."
Vanderbilt two singles points came from Reynolds and Harris at the No. 1 and No. 2 positions, respectively. Both players battled back from one-set deficits to win their matches in three sets.
Reynolds defeated third-ranked Delic, 6-7, 6-4, 6-1, while Harris came back to defeat 12th-ranked Brian Wilson, 2-6, 6-1, 7-5. Reynolds is now 44-6 overall in 2002-03 and finishes the dual-match season with a 25-1 mark. Harris improves to 34-10 overall and 19-4 in dual matches.
Three of the Commodores four singles losses were decided in three sets.
Reynolds and Harris were both named to the NCAA All-Tournament team in singles. The No. 1 team of Reynolds and Brown and the No. 3 team of Dailey and Smith were to the all-tournament team in doubles.
Reynolds and Harris will be back in action Wednesday for the first round of the NCAA Singles Championship. Reynolds, who is the tournament's top seed, will take on Illinois Phil Stolt. Harris, who is seeded 9-16 alphabetically, will take on Illinois Rajeev Ram.