May 24, 2014
ATHENS, Ga. -- Recording their third straight-set victory in as many days, Tennessee juniors Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese advanced to the NCAA doubles semifinals Saturday at the Dan Magill Tennis Center.
Libietis and Reese put together successful return games late to both sets to beat California's Gregory Bayane and Chase Melton 7-5, 6-3 in the quarterfinals on the stadium courts.
The second-ranked Vols now face the ninth-ranked Clemson team of Hunter Harrington and Dominique Maden in Sunday's semifinals at 4 p.m.
Both Vols agreed Saturday was not their best day of returning serves, but they were able to string together shots when necessary, breaking California's serve three times.
Libietis and Reese fell behind a service break for the first time all tournament at 3-2 in the first set, but the Vols immediately broke California back to tie the match at 3-3 thanks to back-to-back double faults by Melton.
Leading 6-5 and faced with the prospect of a tiebreaker to decide the set, Libietis and Reese returned well against Bayane. Reese hit a strong return on set point to break the Cal junior's serve and take the set 7-5.
"In the last few matches, I was returning unbelievably, but today I couldn't buy a return," Libietis said. "I got a little bit frustrated, but the game that we broke at 6-5, I made a few returns and Hunter returned everything."
Bayane's serve was tested again late in the second set. With the Vols up 4-3, he faced the stadium stands and served for the next 16 minutes.
Both teams had multiple chances to win the marathon game, but Reese came through again in the ad court. The junior from Kennesaw, Ga., returned a low ball cross court that Bayane couldn't volley over the net on the approach to give the Vols a 5-3 lead.
"That could have gone either way," Reese said. "If they had gotten that game after we had all of those break points, that would have been tough for me. Either way, it was kind of a tough game for us. We just had to keep going and trusting."
Reese double faulted twice in the final game but was able to serve out the 7-5, 6-3 victory.
With the win, Libietis and Reese continue their quest for a second major doubles title, having won the ITA All-American Championships in October. They also reached the finals of the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships in November.
Libietis and Reese are now 34-5 together this season, including 11-1 in the major tournaments.
"We've been playing really well, especially in the tournaments," Libietis said. "We've only had one loss, and it was in National Indoors. We are just really used to each other. I know what he's going to do and He knows what I'm going to do."