It’s safe to say that the No. 24-ranked Tennessee men’s tennis team, with an 18-6 overall record and a 7-3 mark in SEC play, has been a pleasant surprise so far this season.
Given that the Vols are coming off of a 13-14 record (3-9 SEC) from last season, with mostly the same roster and an entirely new head coach in first-year man Chris Woodruff, 18-6 could easily be considered an impressive mark.
On Sunday, the Vols hit a speed bump in the form of No. 12 Mississippi State, a Bulldog team that beat them 4-2 in Knoxville, snapping a two-game win streak.
Woodruff has reiterated all season that he wants his team to remain focused and snap back against adversity. It did just that a week later on April 8, travelling to Tuscaloosa to face the Alabama Crimson Tide, beating the Tide on its own courts, 5-2.
It was a rough start for Tennessee, though.
Doubles play did not begin, or end, well for the Vols. Tennessee’s Adam Walton and Timo Stodder on Court 2 were the first match to find a conclusion. They faced off against Alabama’s Thibault Cancel and Alexey Nesterov.
The Tennessee duo jumped out to a 4-3 lead early on, with a victory well within their grasp. However, Cancel and Nesterov would rally from behind and claim three straight games to strike first for the Crimson Tide.
Nicaise Muamba and Andrew Rogers had a relatively rougher go of it than Stodder and Walton against their Alabama foes of Zhe Zhou and Patrick Kaukavalta. The Alabama duo would gain a 6-3 victory, handing Alabama the doubles point and some positive momentum.
The top-100 doubles matchup between No. 20 Preston Touliatos and Luis Valero and Alabama’s No. 68 Mazen Osama and Edson Ortiz went unfinished at 5-4, with the advantage for Tennessee.
Down 0-1, singles play became even more vital for Tennessee, and the Vols did not let down in an area they are particularly strong in.
Walton, who has impressed in his first season at Tennessee, earning a No. 93-overall ranking, got singles play off on the right foot for the Vols. He easily dispatched Ortiz in two sets, turning in a dominant 6-1, 6-1 performance on Court 3.
Stodder, the No. 20 overall player in the nation, and arguably the leader for this Tennessee squad, had a strong performance against No. 50 Osama for the Crimson Tide. After winning 7-5 in the first set, Stodder cruised past Osama in the second, claiming a 6-2 victory to give Tennessee its first advantage of the day at 2-1.
The Vols would not look back from there.
Touliatos notched the next victory for Tennessee, downing the Crimson Tide’s Nesterov in two sets, 6-4 and 6-3.
The rolling ball of momentum Tennessee had would hit a rock on Court 5, however.
Scott Jones had a rough time against Kaukovalta, dropping the first set, 4-6. The second set came down to the wire when it became knotted at 5-5, but Kaukovalta would take two straight games to give the Crimson Tide its first set victory.
Needing just one more singles victory to take the match, it seemed as if Tennessee’s momentum had been halted at 3-2. Enter Luca Wiedenmann on Court 6, who had already picked up a 6-4 victory in the first set. At the conclusion of Jones’s match, Wiedenmann held a 4-3 advantage in the second.
Wiedenmann would win the next two games, securing victory for himself, and Tennessee as a whole at 4-2. With a win already in the bag, the final match on Court 2 was played through, with Tennessee’s Valero taking down Cancel of Alabama in three sets, 6-7, 6-2, and 6-4.
Tennessee will return home to Knoxville on Friday, April 13, as the Vols welcome the No. 22 Kentucky Wildcats for the second to last game of the regular season.