ELON, N.C. – In a match that spanned two days and nearly five hours of competition, the UNCG men’s tennis team battled back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Elon Phoenix, 4-3, in one of the most competitive Southern Conference matches of the season. The Spartans took the final three singles matches in three sets with Cameron Smith ultimately clinching the match with his 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 win over Juan Madrid at number five in a match that lasted three hours and 11 minutes.
The teams came in with nearly identical records as UNCG improved to 9-10 overall, 6-3 in the SoCon and Elon dropped to 8-12 on the season, 5-4 in the league. The last four matches played between UNCG and Elon have resulted in 4-3 decisions, all ending in favor of the Spartans.
The match began on Wednesday, but Elon and UNCG only managed to get through doubles action before inclement weather halted play. The Spartans earned wins at number two and three to take the early lead. UNCG’s Chanon Varapongsittikul and Randy Phillips quickly took the 8-2 win over Christopher Geaslen and Andrew Prince on court two.
Competitive doubles play ensued in the final two matches and an early break proved the difference on court three as Smith and Jimmy Roueche finished out an 8-5 victory against Jordan Kaufman and Dan Sablik to give the visitors the early lead.
Just as Elon’s top duo of Cameron Silverman and Stefan Fortmann closed out an 8-6 win against Orcun Seyrek and Ahmet Sarioglu in the final doubles match, the dark clouds rolled in and rain began to fall. Play was eventually suspended for the day and resumed on Thursday afternoon under cooler temperatures but dry weather.
The match was intense from the beginning with the knowledge that a victory clinched a first-round bye in the upcoming conference tournament. Elon got off to a quick start, winning sets on courts two, four and six.
Carlos Arboleda tied the match with a relatively quick 6-4, 6-1 win against Roueche at number six. While things began to heat up on courts two and four, Kaufman ran out to a 5-0 lead in the opening set against Varapongsittikul, before eventually securing the 6-2, 6-2 win at number three to give Elon the 2-1 lead.
In the remaining four singles matches, sets were split on two and four, Elon was up a set at one and UNCG had a set at five.
On court two, Fortmann rolled to a 6-1 first set over Sarioglu. The Spartan battled back for a 6-4 second set win and the two headed into a deciding third set. The match on serve, Fortmann broke to take a 5-4 advantage and served out the 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 win, putting the Phoenix within a point of the victory.
The match on court one lived up to its hype, featuring the only two undefeated number one players in the league — Silverman versus Seyrek. In the opening set, Silverman grabbed an early break to go up 4-1, but Seyrek responded with four straight games to take the 5-4 advantage and the opportunity to serve for the set. The Phoenix sophomore answered with a break and then served out the 7-5 win.
Emotions were evident during the first set and both Silverman and Seyrek picked up point penalties to begin the second set. Seyrek won five of the next six games and evened the match at a set apiece.
Silverman jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the deciding set before Seyrek earned a break to make it 4-1. Silverman broke back and found himself serving for the match, but Seyrek wasn’t about to go down without a fight. The Spartan senior began to claw back, putting pressure on the other two remaining matches.
As the match on court one went back to even, things over on court five had moved to a tiebreaker in the third set. Elon’s Andrew Prince and Phillips each saw several match points before Phillips pulled out the final set on the strength of a 12-10 tiebreaker. Phillips pulled UNCG to within 3-2 with his 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (10) win over Prince.
Back on court one, Seyrek’s momentum carried him to the 7-5 final set win and the match-tying 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 defeat of Silverman.
With literally all eyes on court five, Madrid called for a trainer as his legs began to cramp in the third hour of the match. The Elon rookie managed to win three consecutive games to take a 3-2 advantage, but a Smith break in the next game combined with the UNCG win on court one gave the Spartan freshman enough energy to finish off the match-clinching win.
Elon will have little rest before it returns to The Jimmy Powell Tennis Center for its home finale against the Samford Bulldogs on Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. The Phoenix will honor lone senior Eric Turner prior to the match.