NASHVILLE, Tenn. - In what proved to be an intense and lengthy Easter Sunday battle, Mississippi State's 10th-ranked men's tennis team (17-5, 8-2 SEC) fought off the No. 40 Commodores of Vanderbilt (7-13, 2-8 SEC) 4-3 on the road.
The victory vaulted State back into the lead in the SEC West at 8-2, one match ahead of 14th-ranked arch rival Ole Miss (7-3) which fell at No. 6 Kentucky Sunday. The Bulldogs will meet the Rebels in Oxford next Saturday at 1 p.m. to close the regular season. Regardless of the outcome, State will have earned at least a share of the SEC West crown for the second year in a row (MSU won it outright in 2011).
"It feels good to win at least a share of the SEC West," head coach Per Nilsson said. "I know the guys want to win the division outright and we look forward to a very big match next weekend at Ole Miss."
In one of the most intense matches of MSU's 2012 SEC season Sunday, the Bulldogs were able to hold off Vandy when 46th-ranked senior George Coupland downed his Commodore foe Anton Kovrigin on court 5 for the deciding point. As the two battled through a tough first set, Coupland was able to fight his way to a 7-6(6) first set victory but Kovrigin would answer in similar fashion with a tiebreak win for the second. As both parties held serve to 4-4, Coupland was able to break Kovrigin in a lengthy game and then hold serve to win the match 7-6(6), 6-7(2), 6-4, clinching for the Bulldogs.
That match came after a fierce afternoon battle with many twists and turns.
As doubles play began, the Dores and the Dogs were in an epic SEC matchup as the deciding match came down to a tight battle on court 3. On court 1 for Vandy was the 56th-ranked duo of Gonzales Austin and Alex DiValerio where they downed MSU's No. 32 pair of Louis Cant and Malte Stropp 8-4.
However, the Bulldogs' 43rd-ranked tandem of Coupland and Artem Ilyushin quickly responded in the No. 2 position where they squared off with Blake Bazarnik and Jeff Offerdahl of the Dores. Falling behind 5-0 early, the Vandy pair would quickly battle back as they earned five-straight games to match MSU's quick start. Yet again, Coupland and Ilyushin would answer with three-straight games to take the match 8-5 and leave the decision to court 3.
There, MSU's pair of Zach White and Ethan Wilkinson were battling with Vandy's duo of Joe Dorn and Charlie Jones in the third position where the Bulldogs took an early 4-2 lead. However, the Commodores would battle back to tie the match at 5-5 but MSU would outlast Vandy's efforts as they took the match 8-6 and the big doubles point for the Bulldogs.
Despite dropping doubles, the Commodores would not back down in singles either, with five out of six matches being decided in three sets.
The first to respond for the Dores was Dorn who battled back from losing the first set to earn a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over MSU's White at No. 6 to even the match at 1-1.
MSU would respond on court 4 where the 44th-ranked Cant was battling Offerdahl of Vandy. After the players split sets, both held serve to 4-4 in the third, when Cant would break and hold to clinch the match 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 and gain a 2-1 MSU lead.
Again, the Commodores would respond as State's James Chaudry would fall 7-6(6), 7-5 in a tight two-setter on court 2 to Vandy's Austin, tying the match at 2-2.
Breaking the tie for the Bulldogs would be the 67th-ranked Stropp from the No. 3 position, where he faced Vandy's Bazarnik. Falling in the first set 6-4, Stropp would fight to split and send the match to a third. With both sides holding serve to 5-5, Stropp would break and hold serve to take the third set and match 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 and give MSU a 3-2 lead.
Again, the match would swing back to a tie as two top 50 opponents in No. 15 Ilyushin of MSU and 47th-ranked Jones of Vanderbilt squared off at No. 1. Falling 7-6 in the first set, llyushin would fight to split sets with a 6-2 score in the second. However, Ilyushin's efforts fell short as Jones took a 7-6, 2-6, 6-4 decision, evening the match at 3-3 and setting up Coupland's clincher at No. 5.
"You have to give credit to Vanderbilt for their fight today," said Nilsson. "Those guys played incredibly well but I am proud of us not losing focus and finishing off Vandy on the road."
No. 10 Mississippi State 4, No. 40 Vanderbilt 3
4/8/12 - Currey Tennis Center - Nashville, Tenn.
1) #47 Jones (VU) def. #15 Ilyushin (MSU) 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-4
2) Austin (VU) def. James Chaudry (MSU) 7-6(8), 7-5
3) #67 Stropp (MSU) def. Bazarnik (VU) 4-6, 6-3, 7-5
4) #44 Cant (MSU) def. Offerdahl (VU) 7-5, 2-6, 6-4
5) #46 Coupland (MSU) def. Anton Kovrigin (VU) 7-6(6), 6-7(2), 6-4
6) Dorn (VU) def. White (MSU) 1-6, 6-3, 6-2
Order of finish... Doubles (1,2,3)... Singles (6,4,2,3,1,5)