March 30, 2003
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee's men's tennis team concluded a difficult two-match homestand with a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to No. 5-ranked Ole Miss Sunday at the Goodfriend Indoor Tennis Center. The loss, Tennessee's second straight defeat, brings the Volunteers' record to 9-8 (2-6 SEC), while the Rebels improve to 14-3 (6-2 SEC) with their fourth consecutive SEC road win.
Despite the loss, the match was not without some noteworthy Big Orange highlights. Tennessee's top two netters, junior Simon Rea and sophomore Mark Dietrich recorded upset victories over highly-ranked Rebels Alex Hartman and Catalin Gard, respectively. Hartman is currently the nation's No. 15-ranked collegian, while Gard is ranked No. 21.
"Losing is always disappointing," Tennessee head coach Michael Fancutt said. "But most of the guys on the team played well. They all fought hard and we had a couple great wins by our number one and two players (Rea and Dietrich). The SEC is such a tough, fairly even [conference]. We're down at the bottom of the [conference and Ole Miss is] at the top and we came within a whisker of beating them today, so it's a very level playing-ground in the SEC."
The doubles portion of Sunday's contest was arguably the most exciting a Tennessee match has seen this season. Energized by the lively and vocal home fans, the Vol netters played magnificently on each court. The Tennessee tandems worked well as teams and managed to come up with countless jaw-dropping, acrobatic shots.
The Volunteers struck first, as Rea and Rawl Martin notched an 8-5 victory at the No. 3 position. The remaining two matches went to tiebreakers, with Tennessee needing to win only one to capture the doubles point. Mark Henderson and Vincent Perna delivered at the No. 2 spot, winning their fourth straight match and giving the Vols a 1-0 match lead.
The intensity level remained high as singles competition got underway. Ole Miss junior Paul Ciorascu put the Rebels on the scoreboard with a victory over Wade Orr at the No. 3 position. Claes Lindholm then gave the Rebels a 2-1 match lead by defeating Vol freshman Vincent Perna.
It was then that Tennessee's top players elevated their games. First, No. 33-ranked Rea closed out a spectacular straight-set victory over No. 15-ranked Hartman, who was coming off his 100th career college win on Friday.
"You have to respect a guy that's ranked No. 15 in the country," Rea said of Hartman. "He makes you play at a higher level and that was an exciting challenge. As I got my teeth more into the match, I felt more and more comfortable actually. It turned into a real war and I managed to hold on. [Hartman] is a great player and he's done some good things in college and I was just fortunate and pleased to get a point for my team."
"Simon Rea is just a great example of a guy that does the right thing," Fancutt said of his team's top player. "He trains hard, puts the extra effort in and really wants to succeed--both for himself and for the team."
Moments after Rea's victory, Dietrich brought the crowd to its feet again as he completed his three-set win over No. 21-ranked Gard. Six of Dietrich's last nine singles matches have gone to three-sets, and Sunday's victory snapped a three-match losing streak for the Memphis native.
"Mark Dietrich is back to playing the way he should have been playing," Fancutt said. "He's had a bit of an `off' couple of weeks and it was good to see him being much more mentally-focused today. That's a good win and I think if he can keep (playing) focused like that he'll play well from now on."
"I got my energy going today," Dietrich said. "I've kind of been on a rough streak of losing matches and I wanted to turn that around. I'm really excited about this win."
Ole Miss evened things up at 3-3 with a win at No. 5 singles, and everyone in attendance turned their attention to court six, where Tennessee freshman Rawl Martin was battling Ole Miss sophomore Karim Alayli in the No. 6 singles contest. Alayli took the first set by a score of 6-4, and went on to clinch the match, as well as his team's 14th win of the season.
The road ahead gets no easier for the Volunteers. Tennessee now turns its attention to its matchup Friday, April 4, with the No. 2-ranked Florida Gators (16-3, 7-0 SEC) in Gainesville, Fla. That contest will serve as the first of three consecutive road matches for the Vols before closing out the regular season at the SEC Tournament in Oxford, Miss.