Reyes Varela pushes Men's Tennis into NCAA semifinals
STANFORD, Calif. -- Two tournament sites and two well-placed backhands added up to Texas' first NCAA Final Four appearance in 13 seasons, as UT freshman Miguel Reyes Varela (Cuernavaca, Mexico) rallied from a 5-2 deficit in a third-set tiebreaker to push the third-seeded Longhorns past sixth-seeded Ohio State, 4-3, in the NCAA quarterfinals Sunday at the San Francisco Tennis Club. Texas (26-3) snaps Ohio State's (28-2) 19-match winning streak to reach the NCAA semifinals for the second time in school history and the first time since 1993. The Longhorns will play on Monday against the winner of Sunday's evening's Pepperdine-UCLA match at a time to be announced.
Trailing 5-2 in the third-set tiebreaker with the match knotted at three points apiece, Reyes Varela regained two points off of his serve to draw within 5-4. Still, his opponent, the Buckeyes' Dennis Mertens, who had effectively utilized his first serve throughout the match, had the opportunity to serve for the match. Mertens, however, was unable to locate his first serve on each of the next two points. The pair dueled for a long rally that ended with a perfect backhand volley from Reyes Varela, evening the tiebreaker at five points apiece.
On the ensuing point, the Longhorn freshman ripped a cross-court backhand winner past Mertens to give himself the opportunity to serve for the match. Reyes Varela netted the first serve but located the second, and after a short rally, Reyes Varela whipped one more perfect backhand out of Mertens' reach to send the victorious Longhorns into a frenzy.
"I couldn't be more proud of our guys," said UT coach Michael Center, who leads the Longhorns to the NCAA semifinals for the first time. "We fell behind once we moved indoors, but we kept battling out there and got it done. It's a testament to the heart of this team. They fought hard to get the doubles point, and then they didn't let the change of venue become a distraction. We stayed focused and knocked off one of the best teams in the tournament. I give credit to Ohio State for playing an outstanding match. OSU certainly played well enough to win today."
The quarterfinal match began on the South courts at Stanford's Taube Family Tennis Center in Palo Alto, but the match was moved 30 miles away to the San Francisco Tennis Club after about an hour of singles action due to persistent showers in the Palo Alto vicinity. Texas opened the match with its first come-from-behind effort of the day, as the Longhorns captured the doubles point in improbable fashion.
At the second slot, Ohio State's Bryan Koniecko and Drew Eberly scored an 8-6 victory over UT senior Roger Gubser (Laredo, Texas) and junior Hubert Chodkiewicz (Corpus Christi, Texas). Texas sophomores Luis Diaz Barriga (Cordoba, Mexico) and Travis Helgeson (Overland Park, Kan.) scored an early service break of Ohio State's Chris Klingemann and Devin Mullings on their way to an 8-5 win at the third position. Trailing 7-4 to OSU's top-ranked tandem of Scott Green and Ross Wilson, UT senior Callum Beale (Adelaide, Australia) and Reyes Varela rallied to capture what proved to be a crucial doubles point.
Reyes Varela served out the next game to pull Texas within 7-5. UT broke Wilson's serve to promptly place the match back on serve. Beale held serve in the next game to even the match at seven games apiece, and UT broke OSU's Green in the following game to assume an 8-7 lead. With the game score locked at 30-all, Beale volleyed a sharp Green forehand down the sideline to give the Longhorns a match point. Ohio State returned Reyes Varela's serve into the net to give Texas the doubles point and a 1-0 lead.
With four first sets in the books, the teams and match officials were forced to relocate the match up the 101 Freeway to the San Francisco Tennis Club due to the persistent wet weather and the absence of an indoor tennis facility on the Stanford campus. The match was stopped at 12:22 p.m. PDT and did not resume for another three hours. Early on in San Francisco, the Buckeyes, an exceptional indoor team, took advantage of the move to the indoor facility, as they regrouped to take a 2-1 lead.
OSU's Wilson took the first set at the sixth slot over UT freshman Michael Venus (Orlando, Fla.) in Palo Alto, and he finished off Venus in San Francisco, winning the match by a 6-3, 6-2 count. The Buckeyes assumed the lead at the third slot when OSU's Mullings dealt UT's Beale a 6-1, 6-3 defeat.
Texas sophomore Milan Mihailovic (Nis, Serbia) led 5-2 at fourth singles over Ohio State's Steven Moneke in Palo Alto and finished off the first set in San Francisco. A rejuvenated Moneke captured the ensuing two sets to give OSU a 3-1 lead before Texas commenced its final match-clinching rally.
At second singles, UT's Gubser took the first set but trailed OSU's Klingemann by a 5-3 count in the second set. Klingemann, however, could not manage to close out the second set. Gubser evened the set at five games apiece and held serve to take a 6-5 lead. Klingemann responded by holding service himself to force the set to a tiebreaker. Gubser and Klingeman found themselves even at four points apiece before Gubser pulled away to take the next three points to take the match and slice the deficit to 3-2.
UT's Helgeson dropped the first set to OSU's Koniecko at first singles before the match was moved to San Francisco. Trailing 6-5 in the second set, Helgeson regrouped to even the set at six games and force a tiebreaker, which he would take, seven points to five. Helgeson and Koniecko remained on serve through the first half of the final set, but Helgeson managed a timely service break to take a 5-3 lead before pulling away for a 6-3 third-set win to even the match at three points apiece.
At the time of Helgeson's victory, Reyes Varela was well into the third set against Ohio State's Dennis Mertens. Reyes Varela took the lead in Palo Alto and finished off the first set in San Francisco. Mertens rallied to take the second set to force the decisive third set. The UT freshman led 5-4 in the final set, but Mertens held serve to even the set at five games apiece. Reyes Varela served out the next game, as did Mertens, to push the match to the decisive tiebreaker.