May 25, 2014
Libietis and Reese reached the finals of the NCAA Doubles Championships on Sunday with a 6-4, 6-2 semifinal victory over Clemson's ninth-ranked team of Hunter Harrington and Dominique Maden.
Major finals are not uncharted territory for the Vols' leading duo; Libietis and Reese have reached all three major finals this season. They won the ITA All-American Championships and made the finals of the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships during the fall, and now they have a chance of winning the biggest prize of all: an NCAA championship.
The Vols will face Peter Kobelt and Kevin Metka of Ohio State in the title match. The fourth-seeded Buckeye duo beat Oklahoma State's Jakob Sude and Arjun Kadhe 7-6, 6-3.
"They play good doubles, almost the same as we do," Libietis said. "I think it's going to be an awesome match. I hope the crowd is going to be here, and I'm looking forward to that tomorrow."
Monday's final is scheduled to begin no earlier that 1 p.m. and will follow the men's singles final, which starts at noon at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
Libietis and Reese adjusted their game to neutralize Clemson's baseline-style doubles play, eventually forcing groundstroke errors from Harrington and Maden. The Vols broke Clemson's serve once in the first set and twice in the second set.
The Vols broke Maden's serve at 3-3 in the opening set, and that proved to be the difference. A few minutes later, Reese served out the set 6-4.
"There's going to be one game where they're going to stress and that's what happened," Libietis said. "We stayed really solid. We had our game plan and what we wanted to do."
Libietis and Reese kept up the momentum in the second set, breaking Clemson's opening service game and pulling away from there. Reese again served for the match, and covering the net, Libietis hit a pair of volleys on match point to send the pair to the championship.
The Vols just beat out the thunderstorm that was slowing creeping overhead during the match. Minutes after their victory, rain started falling in Athens.
Libietis and Reese believe their form has improved with each match they have played in the doubles tournament. The two agree their best doubles so far together came in the NCAA team championships, but they feel like they are returning to that same high level of play.
"We're not quite there yet, but every match we've played in this tournament, we've gotten closer," Reese said.
Libietis and Reese now have a 35-5 record this season, including 12-1 in the collegiate major championships.
Only one Tennessee team has won an NCAA doubles title, but have boasted three additional finalists in the past.
Mel Purcell and Rodney Harmon captured the 1980 doubles title in Athens. Andy Kohlberg and Michael Fancutt were finalists in 1979. More recently, John-Patrick Smith and Davey Sandgren made back-to-back finals in 2009 and 2010.