LSU men's tennis (8-1) faced off against Vanderbilt (4-2) late Friday afternoon, getting their first taste of SEC competition in the fall season.
The result was an intense, back-and-forth battle that came down to the last three courts. But the Tigers would come out victorious, earning a 5-2 victory in a match that was a lot closer than the scoreboard indicated.
Doubles painted a picture of how the entire match was going to go, with each match orbiting a tied score throughout their entireties. But eventually, the Tigers were able to break away, with No. 60 Ronald Hohmann and Rafael Wagner taking their match 7-5, and Boriz Kozlov and Nick Watson winning 6-4.
If doubles are interesting for the Tigers, it’s usually a bad sign, and it appeared to be throughout their first sets of singles. Five of the six courts featured LSU first set drops, as they struggled to get anything going. Two of those drops were sweeps of Boris Kozlov and Tomas Descarrega.
All of the momentum sat with the Commodores (even when LSU’s Tom Pisane upped the Tigers’ lead to 2-0), but they would not hold it for long. One by one, the Tigers rallied, and every player that suffered a first set loss tied their match scores at 1-1 with second set victories.
That rally would continue in their third sets, with Boris Kozlov being the first of the five to finish. After being swept in the first set, he almost pulled off one of his own in his second, then maintained that fire to earn him the victory in the third.
“Vanderbilt came out at the start of singles playing very well and at [that] moment, I wasn’t at the top of my game,” Kozlov said. “But I just put my head down, tried to show some good energy, compete for every point here and thankfully, I was able to come away with the victory today.”
The Tigers needed one more point for victory, and that point would not come easily. Each court’s scores were tight, and no one for the Tigers seemed to be able to clinch it, as the momentum seemed to be shifting back into Vanderbilt's favor.
They surrendered their first point at Court 6, as Tomas Descarrega lost despite a second-set rally. That left three tight battles on Courts One (Ronald Hohmann), Two (Rafael Wagner) and Five (Joao Graca), which would ultimately decide the match.
Hohmann and Wagner were stuck in emotional, back-and-forth battles that ultimately ended in tiebreakers (with Hohmann losing and Wagner winning). But it was Joao Graca on Court Five that would clinch it for the Tigers, with a 6-7, 6-3 and 6-3 victory.
“I was looking at the scoreboard, and everyone was in third sets, so I was trying to finish my game to get everyone a little bit more relaxed and get the win,” Graca said. “I was kind of injured at the end, so I had to keep going with my intensity, and at the end I won.”
The team showed more of their potential in their first conference play of the season, but it will only get tougher from here. The Tigers now have to travel to Lexington to face No. 16 Kentucky, which will surely be an even tougher challenge.