MT. PLEASANT, S.C. – No one can ever say that Elon men’s tennis players don’t leave everything they have out on the court. In yet another epic day of 2012 Phoenix tennis, this one a win-or-go-home affair, Appalachian State’s Matt Saltsgaver pulled out a 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 win over Elon rookie Juan Madrid at number six singles to give the Mountaineers a 4-3 win in the quarterfinals of the annual Southern Conference Tournament. Elon (9-15), whose singles lineup featured five players competing in their first-ever league tournament, suffered four one-point losses against SoCon foes this year.
“I am so proud of how this team played today,” said Elon head coach Michael Leonard. “The effort that each one of them put out on the court was outstanding. This team has lost so many close matches this year which will only help to build character for the future.”
Despite the fact that the agate will read that he was forced to retire, rookie Stefan Fortmann may have been the reason that the Phoenix had a chance in the match. The league’s freshman of the year changed the momentum of the match and limped through nearly an entire third set trying to will his team to victory. After suffering a quick loss in the first set, Fortmann was down a break at 4-2 in the second set to Philip Kloc. He managed to bring the set back to even and send it to a tiebreaker where he battled off four match points before taking the 12-10 breaker and forcing a third set.
With ASU leading 2-0 at this point, Fortmann’s energy seemed to carry across courts. Elon’s Cameron Silverman used a break against Alex Markov for a 7-5 first set at number one singles, but looked like he was headed to a third set after dropping four straight games to open the second. As the Elon contingency started to feed of Fortmann’s comeback, Silverman did too, winning six of the next eight games and put the set in a tiebreaker.
The rollercoaster match was twisting on other courts as well. Senior Eric Turner, who has toughed out an injury for much of the season, split sets with Alain Humblet on court three. Turner came back strong in the third set and just as Fortmann put the finishing touches on his second-set tiebreaker, Turner gave Elon its first point with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 victory. Minutes later, Silverman came through with a 7-5, 7-6 defeat of Markov to knot that match at two points apiece.
On court four, freshman Jordan Kaufman had rolled to a 6-2 first set against Sebastien King before the Mountaineer matched that score in the second set. Appalachian seemed to have the momentum along with a 4-1 lead in the deciding set. But again the Elon energy was contagious and Kaufman limited King to just one more game as he gave Elon a 3-2 advantage with a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 victory. Kaufman won 10 of his 12 matches against conference opponents this year.
The fans were getting rowdier with third sets playing out on courts two and six. Fortmann began to hobble pretty early in the final set, the pain evident on his face with every movement. But, he limped around as best he could, trying to stay on the court for teammate Madrid on six. Saltsgaver won five consecutive games to erase a 5-2 deficit in the second set, but Madrid was sitting at 5-3 up in the final set before Saltsgaver got a break. In the next game, Madrid managed to have a match point before Appalachian battled to even the set at 5-5.
Over on court two, Fortmann was finding any movement difficult. The athletic player from South Africa, best known on campus for his long blond locks, made one final dive at a ball before he was unable to get up and finish the match. With Fortmann forced to retire late in the third set, the match was tied and hinged on the result at six.
The Mountaineers could smell victory and Saltsgaver won the next two games to clinch the match and send Appalachian State to the semifinals.