It came down to a bitter end for the Alabama men’s tennis team Friday at the SEC Championships.
The Crimson Tide was on the verge of an upset of 21st-ranked Tennessee and a chance to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2001, but lost two heart-breaking three-set matches to fall 4-3 at the Alabama Tennis Stadium.
“I don’t think anyone could have scripted a match like this,” Alabama coach George Husack said. “It’s got to be the most exciting match in my 23 years of coaching.”
The Volunteers will play fifth-ranked Texas A&M and ninth-ranked Mississippi State will face No. 10 Florida at 2 p.m. in Saturday’s semifinal round. The championship is scheduled for noon Sunday.
Alabama won two tiebreakers to pull out the doubles point and got a huge win from ace Mazen Osama at No. 1 singles. The junior from Cairo, Egypt, ranked No. 18 nationally, bested 14th-rated Timo Stodder 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.
Alabama also got a win from sophomore Alexey Nesterov at No. 4, who prevailed 6-2, 6-1.
Tennessee won at No. 2 and No. 3 three singles, leaving a pair of marathon matches to settle it.
Nicaise Muamba came back to beat Alabama’s Ricardo Roberto at No. 6, winning 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Alabama’s Zhe Zhou and Tennessees Preston Touliatos battled to the finish at No. 5, with Touliatos breaking Zhou’s serve in the final game to win 6-3, 1-6, 7-5.
“Tough pill to swallow, of course, but what can you say? They fought their hearts out,” Husack said. “We certainly wanted to be the winner, but (we were) a little bit unfortunate.”
Osama took down three ranked foes in as many days during Alabama’s run and Nesterov was undefeated in singles and doubles.
“This is what (Osama) is capable of, and he’s capable even of much more,” Husack said. “Those are some hard, tough outs. This is the Mazen that has developed over his time here.
“(Nesterov) is growing into a man. I’m really proud for him. He’s a perfectionist and he just decided to relax and performed great this week.”
Alabama is projected to be in the NCAA Tournament field, which will be revealed next Tuesday.
“We’re right there,” Husack said. “We’re certainly much better now, I think. This is what we thought we could be in January and February, but probably didn’t believe it. We’re way better than we were.”
In other quarterfinals, Florida defeated Vanderbilt 4-1, Mississippi State blanked Ole Miss 4-0 and Texas A&M defeated Georgia 4-0.
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.