One and done: Men's tennis falls to Gamecocks, 4-3

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The seventh-seeded Vanderbilt men's tennis team dropped a heartbreaking 4-3 decision to 10th-seeded South Carolina in the opening round of the 2004 Southeastern Conference Men's Tennis Tournament hosted by Vanderbilt at the Brownlee O. Currey Jr. Tennis Center Thursday.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The seventh-seeded Vanderbilt men's tennis team dropped a heartbreaking 4-3 decision to 10th-seeded South Carolina in the opening round of the 2004 Southeastern Conference Men's Tennis Tournament hosted by Vanderbilt at the Brownlee O. Currey Jr. Tennis Center Thursday. The 21st-ranked Commodores will have to wait until May to here their seeding for the NCAA Tournament, while the the 44th-ranked Gamecocks will face second-seeded Florida, the SEC Eastern Division champion, at 1:15 p.m. CT Friday.

South Carolina freshman Pedro Rodrigues clinched the match at sixth singles with a victory over Vanderbilt freshman Nathan Sachs, winning in a second-set tiebreaker, 7-6 (7-5). The match ended around 10:15 p.m. CT, more than seven hours after it had begun.

Vanderbilt and South Carolina played the fourth-and-final match of Thursday's first round. The day began with a pair of 4-0 wins, with fifth-seeded LSU defeating Alabama and eighth-seeded Auburn handling Arkansas. The day was lengthened by weather delays and a long third match which saw 11th-seeded Mississippi State upset sixth-seeded Tennessee.

The VU/USC match began outdoors approximately two hours after its scheduled starting time of 1:15 p.m., but was brought to a standstill by rain only 15 minutes in. With only five courts inside, the Commodores and Gamecocks were forced to wait out the entire MSU/UT contest before continuing their match.

Two and a half hours later -- after the 11th-seeded Bulldogs had pulled the tournament's first upset, 4-3 -- Vanderbilt and South Carolina resumed play. The Commodores quickly knocked the rust off by winning, 8-3, at second doubles. Vanderbilt seniors Zach Dailey and Lew Smith, prep teammates at the University School of Memphis, defeated Marcus Westman and Tom Eklund of USC to give the Dores an early edge.

On a day that did not seem to want to end, the remaining two doubles matches raced to finish. On center court, VU senior Chad Harris and junior Scott Brown won six straight games to take a 7-1 lead over Geraldo Knorr and Pedro Rodrigues in their match.

But junior Matt Lockin and freshman Nathan Sachs took used a pair of service breaks to complete an 8-5 win over Ben Atkinson and Carl Wermee at third doubles to clinch the first team point. The match at first doubles was halted with the Commodores up, 7-1.

Vanderbilt won quick first sets at lines two and four to keep the pressure on the Gamecocks, who answered by taking a tiebreaker at third singles and winning a 7-5 set at fifth singles. Lockin captured the Commodores first singles point at the fourth position, earning a 6-1, 6-1 victory over USC's Knorr.

South Carolina tied the match at 2-2 with wins at second and third singles. Wermee used a pair of tiebreakers to defeat Brown at the third spot only minutes before Eklund took a tough three-set win from Dailey at the second line.

On center court, VU's Harris took a first-set tiebreaker and built on that momentum, breaking Westman early in the second set and holding out for the 6-3 win that gave the Commodores a 3-2 lead. The match came down to courts five – where Vanderbilt's Smith was deep in the third set – and six – where Sachs had given up a 4-1 lead to drop his first set, 6-4.

USC's Ben Atkinson tied the match at 3-3 when he defeated Smith at fifth singles, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4. The third set had been on-serve until Atkinson got a break at 4-4 and then served the match out. At sixth singles, Sachs rallied from 4-1 in the second set to take a 6-5 lead. Rodrigues then tied the match to send it to a third-set tiebreaker. The breaker went back and forth, with both men taking two-point leads, but it was Rodrigues who would capture the final four points of the match and give his team the hard-fought 4-3 win.

With the win, the Gamecocks avenge a March loss to Vanderbilt and improve their record to 15-12. The Commodores fall to 14-12 on the season. Friday's action at the Currey Tennis Center begins at 8 a.m., when LSU faces fourth-seeded Kentucky. Auburn will face 2004 SEC Champion Ole Miss at approximately 9:45 a.m., before Mississippi State takes on third-seeded Georgia at 11:30 a.m. South Carolina and Florida, scheduled to begin at 1:15 p.m., will finish the quarterfinal round.


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