Thrilling Third Set Tiebreaks Key 4-3 Comeback Win Over Cal
March 26, 2005
SEATTLE, Wash. - Seniors Alex Vlaski and Christoph Palmanshofer each captured third-set tiebreakers within mere seconds of each other to lift the Husky men's tennis team to a stunning 4-3 victory over the No. 29 California Golden Bears at the Nordstrom Tennis Center. The marathon match was approaching the five hour mark when Washington finally secured the victory. The 19th-ranked Huskies improve to 14-3 and are now 2-0 in Pac-10 play.
Vlaski's match at No. 1 singles against No. 19 Conor Niland was especially memorable, as the two-time All-American fought off a total of five match points, any one of which would have clinched the match win for Cal. After making an early break stand up, Vlaski took the first set, 6-4, but Niland got on track in the second set with a 6-2 win. At 3-3 in the third set, Vlaski broke Niland's serve, but Niland broke right back and held serve for a 5-4 lead. Serving at deuce, the chair umpire called a foot fault against Vlaski for a double fault to set up Niland's first match point, but Vlaski managed to regroup, hitting bigger and bigger shots every time he needed them. He saved a second match point on his serve before holding, and the two each held serve once more to force the tiebreak.
Niland jumped out to a 5-2 lead, but Vlaski won the next three with huge groundstrokes and overhead winners at the net. Niland took the next point to set up another match point at 6-5. Vlaski would save two more match points, one on Niland's serve, before fighting back for a 9-8 lead and his first match point. Niland stayed alive on his serve, but Vlaski won the final two points, with Niland's final shot sailing long to give Vlaski the win, 11-9.
Moments later at No. 2 singles, Palmanshofer finished off 59th-ranked Lennart Maack in only slightly less dramatic fashion. The two traded service breaks for much of the third set. Palmanshofer served for the match at 6-5, but Niland broke easily to force the tiebreak. Palmanshofer, ranked 75th, jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third set tiebreak, and the two switched ends at 4-2. On match point at 6-2, Palmanshofer ripped a return down the line that Maack could not get back in play, and the Huskies celebration moved from Vlaski's court straight over to Palmanshofer's.
"I had no idea that this match would be pulling ourselves as well as Cal in so many different directions. It changed back and forth with momentum," said Head Coach Matt Anger. "I'm thrilled with this match because it took so much from us to win it. I kept looking at Cal and how well they were playing and how well they were competing, and I'll be honest, I didn't really see how we were going to fight our way through that. I'm so proud of our guys because of what I saw from their guys."
Anger was especially impressed with the play of Cal's Niland at No. 1. "We were very fortunate in Alex (Vlaski's) match. Conor Niland is a great, quality competitor and he deserved better today. He deserved to win. I don't know how he didn't," Anger said. "At the end, Alex (Vlaski) said 'Coach, I'm just going to keep going for it,' and I said 'I'm with you all the way.'"
The Golden Bears came out strong in singles play, taking the first sets in four of the six matches. Cal's Tyler Browne netted the first singles win, downing freshman Andy Kuharszky 6-3, 6-2 at No. 5 singles. Sophomore Alex Slovic came through for the Dawgs at third singles, scoring a 6-3, 6-2 win over Patrick Briaud that nudged the Huskies back into the lead at 2-1. The lead would be a brief one, as Cal came back with a win at No. 6 singles via Ken Nakahara's 6-4, 6-3 win over UW senior Peter Scharler. Cal's Daniel Sebescen closed out sophomore Daniel Chu, 6-4, 6-2, in the fourth singles position to give the Golden Bears a 3-2 lead, setting the stage for the third sets in the top two singles matches.
The match was also highlighted by quality doubles play, with the Huskies taking the early momentum by pulling out two of the three matches. With doubles play tied at a point apiece, Vlaski and Palmanshofer forced a tiebreak at No. 2 doubles against Browne and Sebescen, setting the stage for things to come in singles. The Cal tandem took a 4-1 lead in the tiebreak, but Vlaski and Palmanshofer rallied to take six of the final seven points to win 7-5 and give the Huskies the doubles point. On Friday, Chu and Slovic had scored a huge upset, 8-1, over Stanford's third-ranked and defending NCAA champion doubles team of Sam Warburg and KC Corkery. They continued their run on Saturday, upending the 11th-ranked duo of Briaud and Niland, 8-4, to open doubles play. Cal evened things with an 8-6 win at No. 3 doubles over Kuharszky and Mike Ricks.
The Huskies face their toughest road test of the year next weekend with a pair of duals against the L.A. schools. Friday, April 1, Washington takes on 2004 runner-up UCLA at 1:30. The next day, April 2, the Huskies face USC for a 1:30 Pac-10 battle.
Washington Men's Tennis vs. California