FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. –On his fifth match point, Blake Strode knocked off a backhand volley winner to end his nearly three-hour match with Vanderbilt’s Ryan Preston, 7-6(1), 6-7(4), 7-6(2). The win clinched the Razorbacks’ 4-3 upset of No. 22 Vanderbilt and gave the Arkansas netters their first SEC win of the season. Strode rallied from being down a match point in the third set to seal the win for No. 69 Arkansas (8-6, 1-2).
“I hadn’t won many points off his serve, but I just caught my second wind,” Strode said. “I knew my teammates were behind me and after playing for so long and being the last match on, I knew I had to come through for them.”
With the dual match 3-3, the match at No. 1 singles between Strode and Preston would decide the outcome. Down 5-3 in the final set, Strode served to stay keep the hopes of the upset alive. He fought off a match point for Preston and held his serve. The Razorback junior broke Preston’s serve in the next game and then held his own to push ahead, 6-5.
Preston saved four match points during his next service game, including a winner that clipped the tape and dropped on Strode’s side of the court. A service winner by the Commodore senior forced the third-set tiebreak.
After losing the first point, Strode reeled off four points in a row to gain control of the match. Up 5-2, Strode stepped to the service line with the match on his racket. A cross court forehand forced Preston out wide on defense allowing Strode to dump the match-clinching volley into the open court.
The win at No. 1 singles was one of four victories for the Razorbacks after they dropped the doubles point to the Commodores. Vanderbilt swept the doubles matches, including an 8-6 win by Preston and Evan Dufaux over Strode and Colin Mascall at the top spot. The Commodores were victorious on courts two and three by scores of 8-2 and 8-4, respectively.
Vanderbilt (9-3, 1-2) extended their lead, 2-0, with a win at No. 2 singles by #82 Vijay Paul over Matt Hogan, 6-4, 6-4.
Arkansas rallied to tie the team score by winning the next two matches. On court three, freshman Chris Nott topped Nik Cromydas in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, and Dmitry Lebedev rebounded from losing the first set to defeat Bryant Salcedo, 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-0. The Razorback sophomore has won eight consecutive matches.
Alex Zotov’s three-set win at No. 6 singles over Bradwin Williams, 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-3, gave Vanderbilt the lead again, but only temporarily as Tyler Tarnasky wrapped up a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 triumph over Dufaux at court five to even the dual match at three points a piece.
“(Vanderbilt) is a very good, very experienced team that is well coached,” head coach Robert Cox said, “so to get this win after being so close last weekend at Auburn and Alabama was big for us. We have a lot of fight in us and some talent, so if we can keep putting those two things together we can be successful.”
The win against Vanderbilt is the Razorbacks’ first win over a top-30 team since defeating then-No. 28 Tennessee on March 5, 2006. Arkansas defeated Oklahoma earlier this season when it was the 33rd-ranked team in the nation.
The Razorbacks will return to action Sunday when they face No. 55 Kentucky at the George M. Billingsley Tennis Center. First serve is scheduled for 1 p.m. In the event of inclement weather, the match will be moved inside Dills Indoor Tennis Center. Log on to www.hogwired.com for complete results.
#69 Arkansas 4, #22 Vanderbilt 3
March 7, 2008
*1. Blake Strode (UA) def. Ryan Preston (VU), 7-6(1), 6-7(4), 7-6(2)
2. Vijay Paul (VU) def. Matt Hogan (UA), 6-4, 6-4
3. Chris Nott (UA) def. Nik Cromydas (VU), 6-3, 6-4
4. Dmitry Lebedev (UA) def. Bryant Salcedo (VU), 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-0
5. Tyler Tarnasky (UA) def. Evan Dufaux (VU), 4-6, 6-2, 6-2
6. Alex Zotov (VU) def. Bradwin Williams (UA), 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-3
1. Evan Dufaux/Ryan Preston (VU) def. Blake Strode/Colin Mascall (UA), 8-6
2. Bryant Salcedo/Nik Cromydas (VU) def. Taylor King/Tyler Tarnasky (UA), 8-2
3. Adam Baker/Vijay Paul (VU) def. Dmitry Lebedev/Matt Hogan (UA), 8-4
Order of finish: Doubles (2, 3, 1); Singles (2, 3, 4, 6, 5, *1)
* – clinching match