DURHAM, N.C. — The 20th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers held off a late charge by Elon to secure a 4-1 victory Saturday to open the NCAA Championships.
The Vols (18-10) won the doubles point and then built a 3-0 lead with straight-set victories by Mikelis Libietis on court 2 and Jarryd Chaplin on court 3.
After Tennessee won all six first sets in singles, Elon tightened the matches across the courts and forced two third sets. One of those three setters on court 5 turned into a win for the Phoenix to cut the lead to 3-1.
Junior Brandon Fickey trailed most of the second set to Brian Kowalski on court 4, but rallied to get the Vols off court. Trailing 6-5, Fickey broke Kowalski’s serve and rolled ahead to the tiebreaker for a 6-3, 7-6 (3) victory to clinch the match for Tennessee.
“For our team, I’m really proud of how they handled a very competitive match,” Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. “They played very well in doubles and stayed the course and played well in singles. That’s really what it’s all about this time of year. There are no easy matches.”
The Vols face 11th-ranked host Duke on Sunday for a chance to advance to the final site in Athens, Ga. First serve is set for 2 p.m.
It will be the second match between the schools this season. Tennessee won the first meeting 4-2 in Knoxville on indoor courts in February.
From the first serve to the last, Saturday’s match hardly felt like a neutral site contest. Many Elon fans traveled the short distance to Duke’s Ambler Tennis Stadium, and some Tennessee faithful also made the trip to fill in the stands.
“Before the match, I told everybody this is it, the last tournament,” Libietis said. “This is why we run every day. This is why we practice every day. For me, I was very excited to play NCAAs again. This kind of tournament is why I wanted to be in college. Everybody realizes this is it.”
The Vols rolled out strong from the start in doubles. Chaplin and Andrew Dromsky won their sixth-consecutive match together at the No. 2 position by an 8-3 score. A few minutes later, Fickey and Bartosz Sawicki won 8-5 at the bottom of the lineup to clinch the doubles point.
In singles, Tennessee kept up the momentum, taking first sets on all six courts.
Libietis led the way by putting together one of his best singles performances of the spring. He dropped only one game en route to beating Stefan Fortmann 6-1, 6-0 on court 2.
Twenty minutes later, Chaplin followed with a 6-3, 6-2 victory against Robert Lindgren on court 3 to push Tennessee’s lead to 3-0.
From there, Elon and its fans started to turn the tide. Elon won the second sets on courts 5 and 6. Jordan Kaufman eventually defeated Dromsky 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 on court 5 to cut the Vols’ lead to 3-1.
Reese on court 1, Fickey on court 4 and Sawicki on court 6 were the last Vols remaining in action. Reese had taken the first set off No. 36 Cameron Silverman and was deep into the second set and Sawicki was just beginning his third set when Fickey created his winning opportunity.
Fickey faced set points when returning down 5-6 but broke Kowalski’s serve to tie the set at 6-6.
The second-set tiebreaker was tied at 3-3 at the first change of ends before Fickey rattled off the last four points of the match with his teammates cheering behind him in the stands to clinch the victory.
Elon ends the season with a 19-5 record, having won the Southern Conference to earn a spot in the tournament field. The Phoenix entered the day having won 15 of its last 16 matches.
“I want to give Elon tremendous congratulations on an awesome year,” Winterbotham said. “You could tell the team we played was used to winning. They had a great year, came here and gave everything they had at us. It took everything we had to beat them.”
#20 Tennessee 4, #51 Elon 1
1. #27 Hunter Reese (UT) vs. #36 Cameron Silverman (ELON) 7-6 (7-0), 6-5, unfinished
2. #34 Mikelis Libietis (UT) def. Stefan Fortmann (ELON) 6-1, 6-0
3. Jarryd Chaplin (UT) def. Robert Lindgren (ELON) 6-3, 6-2
4. Brandon Fickey (UT) def. Brian Kowalski (ELON) 6-3, 7-6 (7-3)
5. Jordan Kaufman (ELON) def. Andrew Dromsky (UT) 2-6, 6-2, 6-4
6. Bartosz Sawicki (UT) vs. Ismael S. Delfin (ELON) 6-3, 3-6, 2-0, unfinished
1. #2 Mikelis Libietis/Hunter Reese (UT) vs. Cameron Silverman/Jordan Kaufman (ELON) 6-4, unfinished
2. Jarryd Chaplin/Andrew Dromsky (UT) def. Robert Lindgren/Brian Kowalski (ELON) 8-3
3. Brandon Fickey/Bartosz Sawicki (UT) def. Stefan Fortmann/Juan Madrid (ELON) 8-5