The Oklahoma men’s tennis team’s NCAA quarterfinal dual with No. 3 UCLA came down to the final singles match on Sunday. Freshman Andre Biro delivered a come-from-behind, three-set win to send 11th-seeded OU to the final four of the NCAA Championships for the third year in a row.
“It was a great match,” head coach John Roddick said. “UCLA fought incredibly hard. They just played tremendous. We’ve had three of those with UCLA the last three years. You have to give them a lot of credit for how they competed. It was an incredible effort by both teams. I thought after they won at one and two, and we were down a break at 6--it doesn’t look great there, but you just keep fighting and going. Biro did a really nice job of stepping up and not letting the moment get to him at all, and just played rock solid tennis. It was just a great match, and too bad someone had to lose that one.”
Biro’s win sealed a 4-3 victory over the Bruins for the Sooners who made their fourth quarterfinals appearance in a row and their fifth in Roddick’s seven-year tenure. OU won the doubles point and, despite a late charge from UCLA, split the singles matches 3-3 to take the win and advance.
“We talk about the doubles point, I’m sure other teams do too, where if you win or lose it, you just have to put it behind you,” Roddick said. “Obviously in the back of your mind when you’re thinking you have to win three, it’s a lot easier road. UCLA – all those guys competed hard. That’s why they’re able to do that. A lot of credit to them just to keep competing no matter what it’s looking like out there.”
Oklahoma led 3-2 with two singles matches remaining when Andrew Harris fell 7-5 in the third set at number one singles. The loss at the top spot leveled the dual at 3-all, but just seconds later Biro broke UCLA’s Joseph Di Guilio for the second game in a row to take a 3-2 lead in the third set at number six. Biro, who had trailed by a break at 2-0 in the set, would hold serve twice more and at 5-3, took the clinching break.
“For Andre to settle down and get the break back early in that set so you’re not fighting uphill the whole way, was really good for a freshman to be able to come in and settle down and execute, and get some great passing shots there and earn some points,” Roddick said. “So that was huge to get right back in it at that particular moment. Everybody will take being up 2-0. Right there, you have to figure out what you need to do to execute, and then you have to go do it. Andre did a great job in that moment.”
Biro trailed 0-30 in Di Giulio’s final service game, but stormed back to take the next four points to win the game, the set and the match. He won six of the last seven games in the third set.
The doubles point was crucial for OU on Sunday. The Sooners got a highly-ranked win from their top duo of Harris and senior Axel Alvarez. They defeated the nation’s No. 2 duo of Mackie McDonald and Martin Redlicki, 6-3. OU dropped the match at number three doubles, leaving the opening point’s fate in the hands of court two.
At number two doubles, junior Alex Ghilea and sophomore Spencer Papa led by a break for much of the match, but UCLA broke late to force a tiebreaker. In the extra frame OU jumped out to an early 3-0 lead before ultimately winning 7-4 to claim the point.
“I think that me and Alex were starting to play some of our best doubles,” Papa said. “We have kind of struggled throughout the season, but we have been practicing for the last couple of weeks, just focusing on doubles, and it paid off today.”
An Edmond, Okla., native, Papa delivered the first singles win of the day for OU. The sophomore won handily over No. 58 Gage Brymer, 6-3, 7-5. Papa controlled both sets from the start, getting early breaks to dictate the pace.
UCLA cut the lead to 2-1 with a win on court four, but junior Florin Bragusi put OU up 3-1 and a point from advancing with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Logan Staggs at line five singles. Bragusi broke Staggs early in both sets and claimed the match with a key break back in the second set that allowed him to serve for the match at 6-5.
Alvarez fell at number two singles to No. 38 Redlicki, 7-5, 7-6(5). OU’s all-time leader in wins and singles wins was close in both sets, but gave up a late break in the first and fell behind early in the tiebreaker. On court one, Harris won the first set against No. 6 McDonald, but dropped the second. In the third, Harris trailed by a break early, but took one of his own to get the set back on serve at 5-all in the third. McDonald broke Harris at 6-5 to claim the match and level the dual at 3-all. That’s when Biro’s heroics kicked in.
OU’s win secured the Sooners a spot in the NCAA semifinals round for the third year in a row and the third time in program history. Oklahoma will take on No. 7-seed Georgia at 4 p.m. CT on Monday.
The Sooners are hopeful for another big OU turnout. Sunday’s crowd of 1,140 was dominated by Oklahoma faithful.
“It was a great environment,” Roddick said. “That was probably by far the most people that have ever watched the Sooners play tennis. I’m sure for the guys it’s fun to play in. I can speak from experience playing at Georgia in front of Georgia’s crowd in the NCAA’s, and it’s something you never forget.”