Blazers clip Falcons in conference clash
Mar. 17—VALDOSTA — No. 3 Valdosta State men's tennis (6-0, 2-0 Gulf South Conference) remained perfect, clipping the Montevallo Falcons (2-6, 2-3 GSC) 7-0 Friday afternoon.
The Blazers secured the shutout with Lamar Bartley's 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (8-6) win over the Falcons' Paul Sobich in a marathon match lasting 2 hours and 29 minutes.
"I felt I was in control the entire match," Bartley said. "The match was definitely in my hands, but at the wrong moments, I guess, I missed. I just tried to stay as mentally sane as possible and just keep doing the right things — coming forward, trying to take the point to him rather than just sitting back and letting him dictate. I managed to hang in there and served well at the end."
After defeating Sobich in a first set tiebreaker, Bartley looked like he would cruise to victory as he jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the second set.
Then, things got interesting for the Englishman.
Bartley's lead quickly dwindled with Sobich relying on his consistency and capitalizing on several unforced errors by Bartley. Sobich won four consecutive games to take a 6-5 lead in the second set, but Bartley clawed back to draw even and force the decisive second set tiebreaker.
With Sobich refusing to go down without a fight, Bartley fought to get a 7-6 lead in the tiebreaker and earned the victory on an error by Sobich into the net.
"I think it was more me than him. I think he just did the same thing throughout the entire match — just kept putting the ball in and my level was more fluctuating," Bartley said of the second set. "I just had to try to maintain my level more consistently and in the end, that's what happened."
In No. 6 singles, Brazil's Pedro Cordeiro took down Montevallo's Dylan Kamel 6-2, 6-0 in just 53 minutes — the shortest singles match of the day. Fellow Brazilian Rodrigo Carvalho beat Montevallo's Julius Ziebart 6-2, 6-3 in the No. 2 position.
Blazer junior Christian Wedel got past Montevallo's Viktor Ek Johansson 6-2, 6-3 in No. 4 singles while Christian Felline held off a second set charge to beat Fabricio Sosa 6-2, 6-4.
In No. 1 singles, Luca Mack got through fellow German Philippe Zehender 6-4, 6-2.
Mack, who assumed the ITA's No. 1 ranking on Wednesday, gave credit to Zehender and the Falcons for making the Blazers earn their sixth straight win to start the season and second conference win in a row.
"They can play," Mack said of the Falcons. "The score was 7-0, but they can all play. There were a few close matches and we had to go out and do our job and yeah, (Zehender) started out really good in our match. He's a good player, but I pretty fast got back in the match and I think that was important for me."
With temperatures in the low 70s, heat was not a factor but wind was something the Blazers had to work around during Friday's matches.
"You have to play every point, I think, and have to move a little bit better and faster and earlier than normal to have the right timing before you hit the ball," Mack said of managing the windy conditions. "I think that's important because you can lose two points pretty fast because the wind brings the ball out. You always have to stay right there and try to win every point."
Mack, the reigning GSC Player of the Week, improved to 5-0 in singles competition and 5-1 in doubles competition Friday.
As a sophomore, Mack opened the season 2-3 in singles play before winning 13 of his last 15 matches to finish the season.
After a strong fall season, Mack has parlayed that success into not only becoming the No. 1 player in the country in Division II but also leading the Blazers to a No. 3 ranking nationally.
Despite his unblemished record this season, Mack feels nothing has changed in his game to this point.
"Actually, not that much," Mack said when asked what his biggest improvements have been from last year to this year. "I think I was No. 7 last year at the end and I had a good fall and that's why I was No. 2 starting the year. I didn't really change anything or do anything specifically different. I just try to win every match and try to do my best. I cannot tell you a secret now or something [laughs]."
At the start, the Blazers made quick work of the Falcons in doubles.
The No. 1 team of Mack and Carvalho needed just 23 minutes to swat away Zehender and Sosa 6-2. At No. 2, Bartley and Felline beat Kamel and Sobich 6-3 in 31 minutes while the No. 3 team of Cordeiro and Wedel cruised past Ek Johannson and Nick Hartmann 6-2 in 26 minutes.
VSU women 6, Montevallo 1
The Valdosta State women's tennis team (2-4, 1-1 GSC) posted a 6-1 victory over Montevallo Friday.
The teams split the first two doubles matches with VSU's Olivia Pezo and Kayla Greco defeating Montevallo's Emily Hafner and Lieselotte Hartlöhner 6-3 at No. 2 doubles, while Anastasiia Vorobiova and Julia Saving fell to Montevallo's Mirela Turro and Cyba Ozzor 6-3 at the No. 1 position.
Natalie Kohoutkova and Evelyn Altmaier held on to beat Greta Vagnini and Eva Dirr 7-6 (8-6) at No. 3 doubles to earn the team point.
Greco won at No. 3 singles to put VSU ahead 2-0 — defeating Hafner 6-2, 6-1.
At No. 4 singles, Vorobiova beat Dirr 6-2, 6-3 for a 3-0 lead and Kohoutkova clinched the victory at No. 1 with a three-set win over the hard-hitting Turro 6-2, 2-6, 6-2.
At No. 2 singles, Pezo got past Ozzor 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) while Montevallo managed to take the No. 5 singles match between Hartlöhner and Altmaier 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.
VSU freshman Jorja Reynolds overcame a stiff test from Montevallo's London Breedlove 7-5, 6-4 to cap a successful day for the Blazers on court.
Valdosta State travels to Pensacola, Florida for a Sunday morning matchup with Delta State at 9 a.m.
The Blazers return home next Friday, March 24 for a non-conference matchup with Saint Leo at 3 p.m.
Shane Thomas is the sports editor at the Valdosta Daily Times.