Gritty Win Keeps Owls in Contention
C-USA Championship up next
April 13, 2014
Adam Gustafsson fought off multiple match points to grind out a three-set win that covered 21 games to deliver the clinching point for Rice in a 4-2 win over SMU at the Lakes Tennis Academy in Frisco, Texas on Sunday.
Gustafsson downed Alex Sanders 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 to clinch the match and give the Owls (9-12) a split of their weekend in North Texas and give the team a bolt of momentum heading into the Conference USA Championship next weekend in Tulsa.
"Basically, it was a total role reversal from yesterday (a loss to TCU), where SMU had many chances to close sets out, but we were the team to battle back and get the win," Rice head coach Efe Ustundag said. "I can't say enough about the fight we showed at the top of the lineup today to get those four points."
After waiting over five hours due to rain in the Dallas area, the two old foes took to the courts to play singles first late on Sunday afternoon in the latest chapter in a series that has seen the two schools separated by a single match since 1985, with SMU leading 15-14. The last three meetings have been 4-3 decisions, including a win by the Mustangs last year in the Owls final match heading into the conference championship.
Sporting a lineup that was missing its No. 1 singles player in Tommy Bennett, who has missed the last four matches because of an injury, the adjusted Owls' lineup struck first when Max Andrews downed Mischa Nowicki 6-4, 6-1. SMU struck back to take a 2-1 lead with wins on five and six, but David Warren tied the match back up with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Julio Olaya.
Srikar Alla caught fire in his first set tiebreak against Arturs Kazijevs, winning 7-1 and maintained the momentum in the second set to give the Owls a 3-2 lead while Gustafsson and Sanders continued their epic dual on court two.
"It seemed like every time Adam would go up, Sanders would respond with huge serves. Adam was down two match points, but absolutely gutted it out and kept fighting back. "
Ustundag noted the win was crucial for the team's mindset and goals heading into the conference championship week.
"Last year, we lost to SMU in our last match. I think it's not a stretch to say that SMU has probably been one of our biggest rivals each year. But most importantly, the win keeps us on track that we can qualify for the NCAA Championship by winning C-USA next week. You have to have at least as .500 record to qualify, even if you win your conference. The win today makes that a reachable goal and that is a hugely positive thing to have in our grasp heading to Tulsa," Ustundag noted.