No. 39 LSU men’s tennis (12-11) faced its fourth top-25 team in a row and 12th of the season, competing against No. 18 Alabama (14-9) in its regular-season finale.
With this match being its last of the regular season, it was important. After struggling against some of the best teams the Southeastern Conference has to offer, a win here would help reestablish momentum heading into the SEC Tournament.
And with the way the Tigers played on Thursday, it would not be surprising if they made a splash in it.
“When you start four freshmen, it takes them a while to learn,” Coach Chris Brandi said, “and they finally learned their lesson today. A lot of them came up big. They did a great job at singles and doubles, and the guys that weren’t on the court did a great job.”
The Tigers started the match off well, serving the Crimson Tide with a blank in doubles and taking Courts One and Three with strong performances by their two ranked duos. No. 39 Ronnie Hohmann and Rafael Wagner defeated No. 21 Patrick Kaukovalta and Riccardo Roberto 6-4. No. 83 Joey Thomas and Joao Graca would continue their impressive play as of late with a win to clinch the doubles point.
That success would carry over into doubles, where the Tigers had their best performances in the last few matches (possibly the season). Three courts held leads heading into the second sets, and other courts that had lost the first set would take the second.
No. 48 Ronnie Hohmann was the first on the board at Court One after a dominant performance against No. 47 Edson Ortiz. After going down in a game in what appeared to be an even match, Hohmann got emotional.
“I think his win today may have put him in the [NCAA] tournament,” Brandi said. “He beat a fifth-year senior who’s extremely experienced. After the second set, he killed him.”
However, he effectively attributed that emotion into his play and did not lose a game for the rest of the match. He ultimately won the match by a score of 6-3, 6-0.
LSU would quickly follow that with another singles point, with first-year Ben Koch having a robust performance on Court Six and winning 6-3, 6-1. Alabama would avoid the sweep, however, with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Joao Graca.
With the score at 3-1, the last point the Tigers needed would come down to a three-set match. Rafael Wagner, Benjamin Ambrosio and Boris Kozlov were all in a position to clinch the match for the Tigers.
Kozlov would be the decider, and halfway through the third set, it was difficult to imagine him losing. He won 12 of his last 13 games to earn the win for LSU.
“They’re one of the best in the nation,” Kozlov stated referring to Alabama. “The fact that we were able to get the win at home against them means a lot.”
Brandi argues that this LSU team would be a top-25 program this season had it not been for its brutal schedule. He is proud that they were finally able to prove themselves, knocking off a strong SEC team.
“I knew we would knock off somebody,” Brandi said. “We’ve had chances all year against a lot of good teams, but we haven’t been able to close them out.”
“We’re a top-25 team, no doubt in my mind. But our schedule hasn’t allowed us to play at that type of level. We were just playing top-10 teams every week and in our sport, there aren’t a lot of upsets. It was a good day for the Tigers, for sure.”