April 19, 2013
Tommy Bennett weathered earlier missed opportunities to storm back from a first-set loss and provide the clinching point as the sixth-seeded Rice men's tennis team upset third-seeded Tulane, 4-3 at the Conference USA Men's Tennis Championship at the Dunavant-Wellford Tennis Center in Memphis on Friday.
The win was the Owls's first this year in four matches against conference foes, running their season mark to 11-13.
Bennett downed Tulane's Joe Young, 6-7, 6-2, 6-2, shaking off a pair of match points in the first set to send the Owls into the C-USA semifinals on Saturday against host Memphis. His win came 12 days after surrendering the clinching point to Tulane in a 4-3 loss, twice missing chances to win the second set and force a third.
"Tommy took it to a different level today, especially after missing his chances in the first set," Rice head coach Efe Ustundag said. "He shook it off immediately and took control right away with a break in the second set. When he got to the third set, the match was tied at 3-3, and did a tremendous job of finishing it out."
In their earlier loss to Tulane, the Green Wave captured the doubles point, but the Owls made an early statement with their play in the opening matches.
"We really set the tone with the way we came out in doubles," Ustundag said. "We played good, quality doubles on all three courts. Peter (Frank) has been sick and that showed as their match on Court 3 continued, but the other two teams stepped up."
Bennett and doubles partner Adam Gustafsson delivered the first point of the day in similarly dramatic fashion. Rice opened with breaks on all three doubles courts and their No. 2 team of Jonathan Chang and Leif Berger continued on to an 8-0 win. Peter Frank and Philipp Seifert fell 8-6 on Court 3, shifting the focus to Bennett and Gutafsson.
The freshmen duo jumped to a 4-0 lead only to see Idan Mark and Dominik Koepfer battle back to tie it 4-4. Rice broke to retake the lead 5-4, but then had to fight off multiple break points against them before holding at 6-4 on their way to an 8-4 win.
Gustavo Gonzalez, the third freshman in the lineup, kept the Owls momentum in first gear, racing to a quick win on Court 5 to give Rice a 2-0 lead. Junior Philipp Seifert was in a position to put the Owls up 3-0, but stumbled late in his second set before winning a tiebreaker. By that time, Tulane had fashioned wins on Courts, 1, 2 and 6 to knot the match and leave it in Bennett's hands.
After a season of close calls, including five 4-3 losses to ranked opponents, Ustundag said to see his young lineup respond so well was satisfying, but he knows the challenge only grows tomorrow when they face 35th ranked Memphis at noon.
"We have not seen them this year, but we played two very tough matches with them last year. We know we have a big challenge in store tomorrow, but we are feeling pretty good about how we are playing right now," he added.