STARKVILLE, Miss. – For Mississippi State senior Zach White, it was another memorable moment added to career of the Bulldog veteran. Behind White’s third-set rally, the 13th-ranked Mississippi State men’s tennis squad (3-0) pulled off a thrilling 4-3 victory against the No. 26 Harvard Crimson (0-1) Saturday at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre.
With the win, State moves on to face No. 21 Memphis in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend championship match Sunday afternoon for the right to advance to Houston, Texas, and the 2014 ITA National Team Indoor Championship Feb. 13-16. The Tigers advanced to Sunday’s finale with a 4-2 upset victory against No. 18 South Carolina.
“We knew it was going to be really difficult. We had a tough time with them (Harvard) last year and, with such a young team this year, I knew it was going to be a battle,” MSU coach Per Nilsson said. “But I’m really proud of the guys for the way they came out and what an amazing finish to the match.”
White was key in delivering that amazing finish, putting together an impressive third set comeback to hand victory to the Bulldogs. Finding himself down 3-2 in the third set, and 40-15 in the next game, White fought tooth-and-nail with Harvard’s Alex Steinroeder, rallying to tie the set at 3-3. From there, White cruised, taking the match and delivering State the win 6-4, 5-6(1), 6-3 on court four. White had also overcome a 4-0 deficit to take the first set in his contest.
The senior’s impressive finish was set up by a back-and-forth match that started with Harvard capturing the doubles point. Behind a 6-2 victory from HU’s No. 48 duo of Nicky Hu and Brian Yeung against MSU’s Egbert Weverink and White at the No. 2 position, the Crimson jumped out in front early. A 6-4 triumph from Harvard’s No. 17 tandem of Denis Nguyen and Casey MacMaster against State’s 52nd-ranked team of Jordan Angus and Malte Stropp at the top spot gave the Crimson the doubles point. Play on court three was suspended following the clinch, with the Bulldog pair of Florian Lakat and Tassilo Schmid leading 5-3.
In singles, MSU struck first with straight-set victories by Schmid on court six, 6-1, 6-5(4) against the Crimson’s Hu and No. 39 Stropp on court two, 6-3, 6-2 against HU’s Shaun Chaudhuri. MSU would push its lead to 3-1 when the sophomore Angus downed Harvard’s 81st-ranked Sebastian Beltrame in a three-set rally, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.
Harvard would answer, however. The Crimson tied the match at 3-3 when the 44th-ranked Nguyen defeated MSU’s No. 63 Lakat 6-5(5), 6-2 on court one, followed by a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win from Harvard’s Andrew Ball against MSU rookie Rishab Agarwal on court five.
From there, White put the team on his shoulders and carried the Bulldogs to victory in thrilling fashion.
“It was a battle throughout the entire match,” White said. “I just came out on top because of everyone supporting me.”
With the win, State moves to 5-0 all time against Harvard, while also starting the season 3-0 for the third-consecutive season. The victory also moves MSU to 6-3 in ITA Kick-Off Weekend matches, all coming under the leadership of Nilsson.
No. 13 Mississippi State 4, No. 26 Harvard 3
2014 ITA Kick-Off Weekend
January 25, 2014 – A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre – Starkville, Miss.
1) No. 44 Nguyen (HU) def. No. 63 Lakat (MSU) 6-5(5), 6-2
2) No. 39 Stropp (MSU) def. Shaun Chaudhuri (HU) 6-3, 6-2
3) Angus (MSU) def. No. 81 Beltrame (HU) 3-6, 6-2, 6-2
4) White (MSU) def. Steinroeder (HU) 6-4, 5-6(1), 6-3
5) Andrew Ball (HU) def. Rishab Agarwal (MSU) 3-6, 6-2, 6-3
6) Schmid (MSU) def. Hu (HU) 6-1, 6-5(4)
Order of finish… Doubles (2,1)… Singles (6,2,3,1,5,4)