Alabama Men’s Tennis’ Historic Season Continues with 4-2 Victory Over No. 11 Florida State to Advance to the Program’s Fourth-Ever Round of 16 Appearance
For only the fourth time in program history, the No. 42-ranked Alabama men’s tennis team is headed to the Round of 16 after upsetting No. 11 Florida State, 4-2, in Tallahassee on Saturday night. The Crimson Tide (20-12) will head to Winston-Salem, N.C., and matchup against fellow SEC-foe, No. 5 Texas A&M on Friday, May 18 at 6 p.m. CT.
“It feels incredible,” head coach George Husack said. “It started with doubles, guys were confident, believed and were strong. Our guys battled. We had three rain delays, it’s late and we finished under the lights, but there was no stopping them.”
“Before we went out (after each rain delay), we got in a big huddle and I think I said the same speech four times and they prevailed. So it’s incredible. They did such an incredible job today.”
The No. 3-seeded Tide, handed the regional host and No. 1-seeded Seminoles (28-5) just their fifth loss of the season. The win over the No. 11-ranked Noles is the highest-ranked opponent UA has defeated since March 7, 2015, when Alabama bested No. 9 Ole Miss, 4-2, in Tuscaloosa.
The Tide last advanced to the Round of 16 back in 2007 when UA defeated East Tennessee and Duke in the Athens Regional. Alabama is now 4-1 in postseason play in 2018, including nationally-ranked wins over No. 25 Kentucky, No. 23 Tulane and No. 11 Florida State.
To begin the day, Alabama cruised through doubles play to earn the early 1-0 lead. For the second-straight match sophomore Zhe Zhou and freshman Patrick Kaukovalta finished first on court three with a 6-3 win over Gracia/Whitehurst. The sophomore combo of Thibault Cancel and Alexey Nesterov clinched for the second time in two days after winning, 6-4, against No. 60 Iradukunda/Knaff.
After multiple lengthy rain delays in singles play, Alabama struck first with sophomore Edson Ortiz taking care of Jose Gracia, 6-3, 7-5, to give the Tide the 2-0 advantage. Moments later, Florida State bounced back with back-to-back wins on court two and court three to knot the match at 2-2.
Alabama was not to be outdone, as minutes after the Seminoles tied it, Nesterov gave the lead back to the Tide after downing Alex Knaff, 6-2, 6-4, to earn his fifth-straight victory in singles competition.
With the match on the line, it was up to Zhou on court six to clinch the match and send the Crimson Tide the Sweet 16. After dominating Rana-Roop Bhallar in the first set, 6-0, Bhallar answered in the second set by winning 6-1. Zhou started off hot in the third set by going up 3-0, but Bhallar again had an answer, as he tied things up at 3-3. The Tianjin, China native, showed excellent poise, as he returned with three-straight games to clinch the match and extend the Tide’s historic run.
“When we were at the SEC Tournament and lost to Tennessee, you felt awful (for Zhou).” Husack added. “I told him, ‘Hey you got to experience this to get stronger, and you’ll get another shot at it.’ And it came down to him again today, and for him to close it out, I’m so proud of him and how far he’s come, he’s grown into a man.”
Alabama will be back in action on Friday, May 18 at 6 p.m. CT when it takes on No. 5 Texas A&M in Winston-Salem, N.C. The Aggies won the regular season meeting against the Crimson Tide, 5-2, on March 25 in College Station.