FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. –The No. 46 Razorback tennis team will look for the season sweep against Vanderbilt when the two play Thursday in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tennis Championship at the George M. Billingsley Tennis Center. Arkansas (12-12, 3-8) is the No. 9 seed in the tournament, while the Commodores earned the eighth seed. First serve of the Razorbacks’ opening-round match is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
In the regular-season match between the two teams, Arkansas upset then-No. 22 Vanderbilt, 4-3, in Fayetteville. In the dual-deciding match, Blake Strode beat Ryan Preston at No. 1 singles to clinch the win for the Razorbacks. Arkansas has won 15 of 20 conference meetings with the Commodores since joining the SEC in 1992.
The winner of Thursday’s first-round match will advance to face defending national champion Georgia, the tournament’s top seed, in the second round.
The Razorbacks are led by No. 90 Blake Strode who has totaled 16 wins this season playing at the top spot in Arkansas’ lineup. The St. Louis, Mo., native leads the team with 19 doubles victories. Freshman Chris Nott ended the regular season on a five-match winning streak to push his team-high wins total to 24 and recorded a 6-4 tally in conference play.
Including Strode and Nott, there are four Razorback netters with more than 15 wins this season. Dmitry Lebedev and Bradwin Williams are the other two with 18 and 17 wins, respectively.
Arkansas fell to LSU, 5-2, in its last match of the regular season. The Tigers jumped out to a 3-0 lead before wins by Nott and senior Colin Mascall closed the gap. Nott won a three setter at No. 5 singles and Mascall upset No. 118 Jan Zelezny, 7-5, 7-6(2) on court two to cut the lead to 3-2. LSU won the final two matches on court, however, to win the dual.
Vanderbilt (12-8, 4-7) is No. 31 in the most recent national team rankings. Ryan Preston, the Commodores’ top player in the lineup, is the 54th-ranked player in the nation and carries a 15-13 record this season, including a 5-6 mark in conference play. Vijay Paul and Alex Zotov each have 21 wins this season to lead Vanderbilt in that category.
In their regular-season finale, Vanderbilt beat Kentucky, 4-3, to claim the No. 8 seed. Kentucky won the doubles point, but the Commodores rebounded with wins at No. 2, 3, 4 and 6 singles to seal the victory. Zotov clinched the win on court six.
This will be the third meeting in the conference tournament between Arkansas and Vanderbilt with the UA netters holding a 2-1 advantage. In 1993, Vanderbilt beat Arkansas, 5-2, in a first-round match. The Razorbacks returned the favor with a 4-3 win in the first round of the 1995 tournament. At the 2006 conference championship, Arkansas pulled out a 4-3 win over Vanderbilt to advance to the second round.
For the second time in program history, the Arkansas men’s tennis team will play host to the SEC Tennis Championship. The conference tournament will begin with the first round Thursday, continue through the weekend and conclude with Sunday’s championship match. Tournament play begins at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday and Friday. Saturday’s semifinal matches are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The championship match is set for Sunday at 1 p.m.
Admission to the event is free and in the event of inclement weather, the matches will be moved inside to the Dills Indoor Stadium. Log on to www.hogwired.com for live stats and complete coverage of the 2008 SEC Men’s Tennis Championship.
8:30 a.m. – #6 LSU vs. #11 Mississippi St.
10:30 a.m. – #7 Auburn vs. #10 Kentucky
1:30 p.m. – #5 Alabama vs. #12 South Carolina
3:30 p.m. – #8 Vanderbilt vs. #9 Arkansas
(All times Central and subject to change)