FAYETTEVILLE – The No. 41 Razorback men’s tennis team has entered the homestretch of its regular season as it will begin a three-match home stand this weekend. No. 9 Florida and No. 38 South Carolina are up first this weekend and then a match against No. 27 LSU next week will cap the regular season.
This weekend’s matches with the Gators and Gamecocks continue a string of ranked opponents that Arkansas has faced this year. After Sunday’s match with USC, the Razorbacks will have faced 15 teams ranked in the Top-75 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
Currently, Arkansas is 14-9 on the season with a 1-7 record in the Southeastern Conference and coming off losses to Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Even though both matches went into the loss column for the Razorbacks, there were plenty of bright spots for the team that saw a ranked singles win for sophomore Manfred Jeske
as well as two ranked doubles wins for Arkansas’ top two doubles teams.
Jeske has quietly built up a very strong record for the Hogs this season, going 14-14 in singles with six wins coming in dual play. Jeske also leads the team in ranked wins as he notched his fourth of the year last week with a win over 61st-ranked Chris Thiemann of Ole Miss, 6-2, 6-4.
Arkansas is in the hunt of its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2008 and is in good position with its No. 41 ranking to possibly receive an at-large big. Head coach Robert Cox
knows this is the time the team needs to be peaking and he thinks his team is up to the challenge.
“That’s our goal,” Cox said. “We have to make it. They’re playing good tennis and putting the effort out there and good work on the practice court. We’re all healthy and we have different guys stepping up. We need to fire on all cylinders to beat one of these top teams that just hasn’t been the case lately. We’re playing good and our mindset is right and I think in these last three SEC matches, there’s some wins out there.”
The Razorbacks have been playing some of their best doubles in recent years as junior Hall Fess
and senior Matt Walters
continue every week to pull wins against some of the best competition. Last week, the duo earned its third ranked win in as many weeks after defeating MSU’s top team of 32nd-ranked Louis Cant and Malte Stropp, 8-3.
It was Fess and Walters’ 20th win of the year and helps continue to build a strong resume for the team as they only have five losses on the season. All 12 of their dual match wins have come at the No. 1 position and Cox believes that their success has given the rest of the team confidence.
“It’s starting to translate into singles confidence,” Cox said. “You look at Hall (Fess), who played this last weekend in singles and went three sets in both matches, that all comes from the confidence in doubles. Matt (Walters) and Hall have won 20 matches and they’ll probably go into the 30s in the rankings. It gives everyone confidence and it validates what we’re doing on the doubles courts. They’re peaking at the right time and this team is going to peak at the right time.”
Arkansas’ first opponent this weekend is the University of Florida, which is ranked No. 9 in the latest ITA team rankings. The Gators come in with a 12-7 overall record and are 5-3 in SEC play. Spencer Newman leads all Florida players in singles with 27 wins, followed by Michael Alford, who comes into Friday’s match with a 21-5 record.
Florida has four of its players ranked in the Top-75 of single by ITA. Bob van Overbeek leads the way at No. 41, followed by Tripper Carleton (#49), Newman (#50) and Nassim Slilam (#71). The Gators also hold three doubles teams that have place in the rankings, one being in the Top-10. Slilam and Billy Federhofer are the 10th-ranked team in the country, while Carleton and Newman are No. 35. Andrew Butz and van Overbeek round out the ranked doubles teams for Florida at No. 80.
South Carolina will finish out the weekend on Sunday with the Razorbacks as they come in with a near identical record to Arkansas. Its 14-8 overall record and 1-7 SEC record practically mirrors the Razorbacks’ season as they have dominated their homefront, going 10-4, but are only 4-4 away from Columbia, S.C. The Gamecocks have five wins against ranked opponents, one being at No. 22 Georgia Tech on the road.
USC has seven players with 10 wins or more in singles this year. Andrew Adams holds on to the top spot on the team with 22 wins, 14 in dual play. However, he has struggled in SEC play, going only 1-3. Thiago Pinheiro has been the solid player in conference play for the Gamecocks as he is 3-1 against the rest of the league and all 10 of his wins have come in dual play.
“Playing at home will definitely help us this weekend,” Cox said. “We’re going to have good crowds for both matches. Florida is great program that has great history of being an Elite Eight team, if not more. They’re coached well by Andy Jackson and we always have close matches, especially here in Fayetteville. We have to be able to step up at all six courts in singles and three courts in doubles. South Carolina has been struggling, but they’re rebuilding and they’ve come back very strong. They’re playing everybody close and they can play good tennis. These SEC records can be deceiving because we're all good and Top-40 in the country.”
Both matches this weekend are set to start at 1 p.m. and will be played at the Billingsley Tennis Center. Live stats and the live blog will be available during the match. Complete results with a recap will be available online following play.