#12 UW 4, #21 USC 3

Alex Slovic rallied to defeat Johan Berg 6-7(10), 6-2, 7-5 in the decisive match as the 12th ranked Huskies kept alive their dream season and advanced to the Round of 16 with an improbable come from behind 4-3 victory over the 21st ranked USC Trojans in a four hour 20 minute thriller at an Quillian Stadium on a warm but overcast Saturday afternoon.

Hundreds of spectators packed the stands at Quillian Stadium to near capacity and provided an electric atmosphere in a rematch of a regular season encounter won by the Huskies 4-3 in Los Angeles. That match helped spark the Huskies to their first Pac-10 title in history, and undoubtedly the Trojans sought to exact revenge with a berth in the final 16 on the line.

It looked like they would do so when they took a 3 points to 2 lead with singles matches at the #1 and #3 positions remaining. In the top singles match the Huskies' Alex Vlaski won the first set 6-3, with a break in the sixth game deciding the set. USC's Jamil Al-Agba came back to take the second 6-3, getting a crucial break against Vlaski in the eighth game. In the third set, with the score tied at 3, Al-Agba took advantage of three unforced errors by Vlaski to break and go up 4-3. He then had a chance to serve for 5-3, and put a big damper on the Huskies' hopes, but squandered the opportunity. He saved two break points but finally gave Vlaski the break and a 4-4 tie with a double fault.

With momentum on his side, Vlaski held to go up 5-4 and put the pressure back on Al-Agba to serve to stay in the match. Vlaski had an opening to put the match away when he went up 0-30, but then committed four straight unforced errors, to give Al-Agba the hold and a 5-5 tie. Vlaski then held for a 6-5 lead, forcing Al-Agba to hold serve just to extend the match to a decisive tiebreak. Two unforced errors by the Trojan gave Vlaski a 0-30 lead, but he gave Al-Agba a point back with a forehand unforced error into the net. Vlaski then had two match points at 15-40 when he struck a forehand winner down the line in the ad court, but Al-Agba saved one with a backhand volley winner. He could not, however, save the second, spraying a forehand wide to give Vlaski the set 7-5 and tie the overall match at 3 points each.

At that point the Huskies were in excellent position to pull off the stunning comeback, as Slovic led Berg 5-4 in the third set and had three match points on serve at 40-0. Then he somehow lost five points in a row, capped by a double fault, to give Berg and the Trojans the break and new hope at 5-5. With the match back on serve, Berg went up 30-0 in the 11th game with a service winner and an unforced error by Slovic, and the feeling in the crowd went from one that the Huskies had the match under control to one that they were in trouble again. Slovic, however, rallied to win three straight points and a break chance at 30-40. Berg saved one with a forehand drop volley winner but then committed an unforced error to give Slovic another break chance. Berg saved that one as well with an ace, but Slovic won the next two points, on a forehand overhead smash and a forehand pass, to get the break and go up 6-5. Slovic then had another chance to serve for the match, and went up 40-15 to seize two more match points. This time he did not let the opportunity slip away, following a big serve with a forehand volley winner to secure the match and finally give the Huskies and the partisan crowd to exhale and celebrate the big win.

Remarkably, Slovic may not have even had the chance to win the match for the Huskies. After the opening game of the first set he had a bloody nose, and play was halted for almost 15 minutes. He came within one minute of getting defaulted for taking too much time but returned to the court.

Earlier, the Huskies won the doubles point with wins at the #1 and #2 positions. Their #2 duo of Vlaski and Christoph Palmanshofer defeated Drew Hoskins and Adam Loucks 8-3, and then the top duo of Slovic and Daniel Chu beat Al-Agba and Berg 8-3. The match was tied at 2-2 before the Huskies won five straight games to go up 7-2. After Berg held serve to make it 7-3, Chu responded with his own hold to close out the match.

USC rebounded in singles, tying the match at 1 when Brian Wright beat Chris Floyd 6-1,6-1 at the #5 position and then going up 2-1 when Loucks prevailed over Andy Kuharszky in straight sets 6-3, 6-2 at #6. Palmanshofer tied the match at 2 points each for the Huskies when he beat Hoskins 6-4,6-3 at the #2 position, but Van't Hof put the Trojans up 3-2 and set the stage for the dramatic victories by Vlaski and Slovic with a 6-3,7-6(6) win over Chu at #4.

With the win the Huskies improved to 20-4 and finished the season with a 16-2 mark at home. Saturday's match marked the final home appearances for seniors Vlaski and Palmanshofer and Peter Scharler.

Of Vlaski, head coach Matt Anger commented, "He's something else. I don't think people here realize what they are going to miss.

The Huskies will next face #2 Virginia in the Round of 16 at Texas A&M in College Station on Saturday, May 21. Of Virginia, head coach Matt Anger commented, "We haven't played them. We're looking forward to it, and I'll start thinking about that one tomorrow." The Cavaliers advanced with a 4-2 win over Texas A&M Corpus Christi. They lost the doubles point but came back to win four of six singles matches.

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