Nov. 8, 2013
NEW YORK -- Tennessee juniors Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese kept their doubles title hopes going with a strong finish Friday at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.
After falling behind early, the Vols' leading duo reeled off six games in a row to beat Liberty's Jorge Azuero and Shea Thomas 8-3 in the quarterfinals at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Libietis and Reese now face fourth-seeded Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski of Illinois in the semifinals Saturday at 9 a.m. A live blog will be at utsports.com.
The Liberty team was coming off a thrilling back-and-forth 8-7 tiebreaker win over Memphis on Friday and started the quarterfinals with the same energy they showed the afternoon before. Azuero and Thomas broke Libietis' serve to take a 3-2 lead.
"Those guys came out, and they were really fired up and loud," Reese said. "They were saying, `Come on! Let's go!' after every point. We were trying not to get in a shouting match with them, but by doing that, it made us too calm and down on court. We weren't into the match."
Liberty's lead did not last long.
The Vols' energy level picked up in the next game. Libietis and Reese broke Liberty's serve to tie the match 3-3 and Reese won his service game easily a few minutes later. Tennessee broke Liberty's serve again and from there, the Vols were off to the races and did not drop a game the rest of the match.
"From that point on, we took the air out of their sails, and they weren't the same team anymore," Reese said.
Libietis and Reese are trying to become the first Tennessee doubles team to win multiple major national championships. They captured the title at the ITA All-American Championships in October.
Reese said he and Libietis feel more comfortable playing doubles on the national stage, though he doesn't know if he should attribute that to the breakthrough win at the ITA All-American or just the maturity that comes with years of playing big events.
"We haven't really played great here yet, so that's something we're looking forward to," Reese said. "In the first round, Mikelis told me he was nervous, but we still returned well. Today we didn't play great, but we were solid. Now that we're into the tournament, we get three sets."
Coming off a win over top-seeded Patrick Pradella of Baylor, Libietis did not fair as well in the second round of singles.
Libietis had multiple set points in both the first and seconds sets but could not convert any of them in a 7-5, 7-5 loss to Southern California's Ray Sarmiento, the eighth-ranked player in the preseason poll.
Reese was a winner to close the day in the consolation singles draw. With strong groundstrokes and net play, Reese beat Texas freshman George Goldhoff 6-2, 6-3. He is scheduled to play at 11 a.m.