The Tennessee tennis team fell short in the semifinal round of the NCAA Tournament. The No. 3 seed Vols lost 4-2 to Baylor Friday afternoon and ended their championship bid. The Vols finished their season with a 28-4 record, its best in a decade. Tennessee won its first SEC title, the most dual match wins in a season and advanced to the NCAA semifinals for the first time since 2010.
“We put ourselves, really at the start of the season, we had some very lofty goals,” head coach Chris Woodruff said. “And we really accomplished a lot. And we put ourselves right where we wanted to be. I mean, we played for four hours today. And we can walk away, yes, it’s going to sting, but I think the most important thing is next year, everybody on the team will know exactly what it feels like.”
The third-seed Vols started the afternoon with another hard-fought doubles win, their third of the postseason. Tennessee’s duo of Mark Wallner and Giles Hussey were defeated on court three, before Tennessee stormed back with simultaneous match points on courts one and two to clinch the opening point.
Tennessee picked up victories over Baylor’s two ranked doubles pairs. Pat Harper and Adam Walton defeated No. 9 Sven Lah and Constantine Frantzen 7-5, and just moments later Johannus Monday and Martim Prata upset No. 75 Matias Soto and Nick Stachowiak 6-4 as the Vols stormed back to take a 1-0 into singles.
“It was a long, long dual match,” Walton said. “I even thought the doubles, we didn’t look good at the start. And then we sort of got it all of a sudden.”
In singles play, Hussey doubled the Vols’ advantage with 6-4, 6-2 win on court five. Unfortunately for the Vols, their momentum stopped there, as Baylor stormed back to win the next four singles matches in dramatic fashion.
“Honestly, I thought Baylor in a few spots, they out played us,” Woodruff said. “We got overwhelmed in a couple of spots.”
Prata and Andrew Rogers were defeated on courts three and six, respectively, as Baylor tied the score at 2-2. Tennessee refused to go down quietly, however, and the Volunteers took the three remaining matches into the third set.
Luca Wiedenmann was the third Vol to fall, a 6-2, 2-6, 4-6 loss that put Baylor at match point. Finally, Baylor’s No. 11 ranked senior Soto got the best of Tennessee’s freshman star Monday, and the Bears advanced to the championship round.
“You’re looking at a guy in Monday who is a freshman, and their No. 2 is a senior, so there’s a big, big spread there of experience,” Woodruff said. “I think that definitely factored into it at position two. But at the end of the day, there can only be one.”
Tennessee pressured Baylor throughout singles, and on court one Walton battled back from a 2-5 deficit against Baylor’s Adrian Boitan in the third set to even things up at 6-3, 5-7, 5-5 when the match concluded.
“I really thought it came down to the wire,” Walton said. “And maybe they were just a little bit more experienced in better moments. I don’t know, it was tough. It could’ve gone either way.”
Tennessee’s postseason ends earlier than it desired, but looking back on a spectacular season, Woodruff is proud of how far this program has come in just the last four years. He turned a Tennessee program that won just three conference matches in 2017 into a powerhouse that was ranked as high as No. 3 this season.
“I think I’m really proud of the work that we’ve put together in order to get here,” Woodruff said. “This match, yeah this hurts, but proud, to answer your question, really refers for me, is how we’ve come as a squad and the culture we’ve built.”
While the team’s season is over, several Vols will compete in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships after Saturday’s championship game. The Australian duo of Walton and Harper will compete in the doubles tournament, and Prata, Monday and Walton will play in the singles tournament. Singles play is set to begin on Monday, May 23 and doubles on Tuesday, May 24.