AUBURN, Ala. — The 36th-ranked Razorback men’s tennis team takes its first road trip of the conference season this weekend as it travels to the University of Auburn and the University of Alabama and looks to improve on its 1-1 Southeastern conference record.
Last week, the Hogs opened SEC play with a split performance against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The team defeated the Commodores, 4-3, on Friday, but then lost a 6-1 decision to 9th-ranked Kentucky on Sunday. Even though the match with Kentucky didn’t go the Razorbacks’ way, the team did get a big win from senior Nikolas Zogaj, who defeated 14-ranked Anthony Rossi in three sets to not only give Zogaj his first ranked win of the year, but also Arkansas’ first win over a top-15 opponent this season.
“The guys really stepped it up against Vanderbilt,” head coach Robert Cox said. “Playing at home gave us a little extra edge and I’m pleased with how our team went into the match and closed it out at the end. It was very tight and it could have gone in any direction. Then, with Kentucky being a top-10 team, everything has to go right for us. Kentucky was just a little too tough for us at every position. Zogaj did really well and we learned a lot in that match as a team. We grew up a little bit and we’re starting to believe a little more that we can compete.”
Zogaj’s two conference victories marks a good start for the senior that has seemed to struggle early this year, but has started to slowly rack up the victories and now sits tied for the team lead in wins at 13. He along with senior Matt Walters have almost identical records and been the senior leaders that Cox has expected since the season started.
“We need performances like that at the top of the lineup from Zogaj,” Cox said. “Gregoire Lehmann, Zogaj and Walters are all going to have to step it up each and every week. It’s going to be a tall challenge playing in those top positions week in and week out. For Nikolas to win two conference matches, it showed he had a lot of composure, confidence and had lost a lot of close matches before this. For him to turn around and win two SEC matches, it’s great for him.”
This weekend, Arkansas is going to look to continue to play strong doubles as it has won 10 out of 12 possible doubles points this spring. Led by the top team in Walters and junior Hall Fess, who have tallied 16 wins so far this season, another team has emerged as a solid number two. Sophomores Manfred Jeske and Mike Nott have built up a 10-2 record this year with seven wins coming in dual play. Before the Kentucky match, the duo had won four straight matches and eight of its last ten. Strong doubles play has been something that Cox has keyed in on this year knowing that many of the matches are won in doubles.
“We know anything can happen in doubles,” Cox said. “We’re just trying to play good, sound, fundamental doubles at all three positions. Matt Walters and Hall Fess are a great team to watch at number one. They have high energy and it has turned into a lot of wins for those guys. That gives us confidence and validates the way we play doubles. Then, with Nott and Jeske, who have made a nice transition from No. 3 to No. 2, they’re going to be very successful. Our only weak link has been at No. 3 doubles. We’re still trying to find a good team to put there because we want to be solid from top to bottom, but we’ll get there.”
The weekend opens for the men’s tennis team against the No. 27 Auburn Tigers on Friday. The Tigers are coming off a pair of road losses last weekend, dropping a pair of 5-2 decisions at Ole Miss and Mississippi State. But Auburn is unbeaten at home this year, posting a 4-0 record at the Yarbrough Tennis Center.
Senior Alex Stamchev continues his play at the No. 2 singles position as he owns a 12-2 record in dual-match play this season, including a 2-0 mark against SEC competition. Sophomore Lucas Lopasso has provided strong play from the bottom half of the lineup, posting a 9-2 mark in dual play.
The Tigers were without the services of sophomore Dennis Lengsfeld for the last three matches, forcing some shuffling of the lineup. Junior Michael Wardell filled in at the No. 6 spot, earning his first two career dual-match wins and his first SEC win against Mississippi State.
Andreas Mies, ranked No. 23 in the latest ITA release, is 6-3 at the No. 1 position and freshman Lukas Ollert is in the rankings at No. 118 after compiling an 11-2 record in the bottom three spots for the Tigers.
The men will then travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Sunday to complete the weekend. The Crimson Tide opened up its SEC slate with a pair of losses, falling 5-1 at Mississippi State and 6-1 at Mississippi last weekend. In Saturday’s match against the 14th-ranked Bulldogs, Alabama was able to win the doubles point to pull ahead early, but could not pick up any wins in singles. The Tide clinched the point after getting an 8-6 win on court three by senior Vikram Reddy and sophomore Carlos Taborga and a 9-8(5) victory on court two, thanks to seniors Ricky Doverspike and Michael Thompson. Alabama’s lone point against the Rebels on Sunday was won by freshman David Vieyra, who came back to win in three sets over senior Chris Thiemann, 6-4, 6-7, 1-0.
Alabama sophomore Daniil Proskura holds the No. 115 spot in the latest national singles rankings while also pairing with Taborga to form the nation’s No. 33 duo.
Friday’s match with the Tigers is slated to begin at 2 p.m., while Sunday’s match with the Crimson Tide will begin at noon. A full match recap and complete results will be available online following each day’s play.