COLLEGE STATION, Texas. – Two months ago in Tulsa, Okla. the University of Arkansas’ Blake Strode took a tough loss to Oleksandr Nedovyesov (35-7) from Oklahoma State. On Friday, the No. 15-seed Strode evened the score, coming back from down a set to best the Cowboy’s No. 2-seed, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2, in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles Championship.
“Blake played a very solid match today against a quality opponent who beat him earlier this year,” head Arkansas coach Robert Cox said. “Nedovyesov is such a great player, with lots of experience. I’m so proud of Blake for what he accomplished today and how well he is playing here at the end of his Razorback career.”
The win secures Strode a spot in the first NCAA quarterfinal of his career. He is the first Razorback to advance to the Elite Eight of the singles tournament since Marcus Hilpert in 1994.
Strode (25-11), struggling in the first set, had a breakpoint opportunity up 0-40 on serve in the first, leading 2-1 but Nedovyesov came back to even the score at 2-2. The two traded two breaks apiece in the first set, forcing a tiebreak where Nedovyesov prevailed, taking the one set lead.
Not one to back down from a challenge, Strode broke Nedovyesov’s serve in the opening game of the second set and followed with a strong hold, not allowing the Cowboy a point, to go up 2-0. That single break to open the set was the only break Strode needed, evening the match at one set apiece with a hold at 5-4.
Again in the third set, Strode only needed a single opening to secure the win. Tied at 2-2 in the final set, Nedovyesov stumbled, allowing Strode his first and only break of the set. From there, it was all Arkansas as Strode clinched the set to advance to his first Elite Eight appearance at the NCAA Championship.
Nedovyesov, currently ranked No. 2 in the nation, is the second No. 2-ranked player Strode has defeated this year. In March, Strode downed then-No. 2 Bruno Agostinelli of Kentucky during Arkansas’ dual loss to the Wildcats in Lexington, Ky.
Saturday, Strode will see his third unknown opponent of the tournament, playing host school favorite, Texas A&M’s Conor Pollock (30-13) at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center at 10 a.m. on the campus of Texas A&M.
“Tomorrow’s match against an A&M opponent is a monumental task for Blake,” Cox said. “As hard as it will be, Blake deserves to play in an environment like this in the quarterfinals. It will be fun to play against the crowd favorite and he’ll certainly have to play well tomorrow to continue through the tournament.”
For complete coverage of the NCAA Singles Championship, log on to http://www.aggieathletics.com/ncaa2009/tennis/index.html.
For complete Razorbacks men’s tennis coverage, log on to www.ArkansasRazorbacks.com.