Men's Tennis Falls to Rhodes in Epic Semifinal Match, 5-4

The Oglethorpe men's tennis team suffered a heartbreaking loss Saturday in an epic SAA semifinal dual match that went down to the final match. In the end, third-seeded Rhodes defeated second-seeded Oglethorpe, 5-4, at Nashboro Village Athletic Club in Nashville, Tenn.

Rhodes got revenge for their home loss two weeks ago that secured the two-seed for Oglethorpe, and the dual match was even closer today than it was then.

The dual match got started with a Petrels loss at No. 3 doubles, as Briton Richardson and Nick Roby fell behind and could not come back in the end, falling 8-5. Down 1-0, the two remaining doubles matches were back-and-forth affairs that could've gone either way. Ethan Motz and Ben Hirsch were down 7-6 at No. 1 with Rhodes serving for the match, and had seven break points to knot the match at 7-7. However, the Petrel team could not close it out, and Rhodes won the match, 8-6.

That put them up 2-0 and made the No. 2 doubles match absolutely crucial for the Petrels. The team of C.J. Antonio and Bryan Bailey fought back from being down 7-5 and came back to tie it, 8-8. Then, Antonio and Bailey finished it off in a tiebreak, winning it 7-4 and taking the match 9-8, keeping the Petrels in the mix going into singles.

Down 2-1 entering singles, the Petrels needed to win four of the six matches to take the dual match. They got off to an excellent start with an easy 6-2, 6-2 win from Hirsch at the No. 4 slot. This tied the dual match, 2-2. However, Rhodes picked up a victory of their own in the No. 1 slot, defeating Motz 6-3, 6-2. Rhodes led the dual match, 3-2.

At that time, both the Nos. 2 and 3 matches were in the third set. At No. 2, Antonio had been down 5-2, but came back to send his first set to a tiebreak where he finally fell, 8-6. However, Antonio came roaring back to take the second set, 6-2, then kept the pressure on his opponent and won the third set by the same margin, tying the overall score at 3-3.

Meanwhile, Bailey was locked in a very tense match at No. 4. He took the first set with ease, 6-2. However, his opponent started to wear on him, and came back from down a break to win the second set, 6-4. In the third set, Bailey again appeared to be regaining control, only to have his scrappy opponent come back again. Bailey lost a match point and had his opponent come back to extend the match. Bailey was finally able to close him out 7-5, though, giving the Petrels a 4-3 lead and drawing them to within a win of clinching the day and advancing to the SAA final.

However, Kirk Zhao lost in straight sets at No. 5, 6-4, 6-2, and that drew the dual match level at 4-4 and brought everything down to the No. 6 match, featuring Richardson. Richardson took the first set, 6-3, but dropped the second, 6-2. In the third and final set, Richardson fell down a break, 5-3. He held serve to make it 5-4, then delivered a huge break to tie things up 5-5. Rhodes broke Richardson's serve and again served for the match, but Richardson broke serve again and sent the match to a winner-take-all tiebreak. 

In the tiebreak, Richardson fell down 2-0 and came back to tie it at 2-2, but then fell behind again, 5-2 and then 6-3. He was able to save two match points and make it 6-5, but could not save the third, and Rhodes took the tiebreak 7-5 and the dual match 5-4.

The Petrels fall to 18-5 on the season, and will try to recover from the heartbreaking loss, as they take on fifth-seeded Centre on Sunday in the third-place match at 10 a.m. Eastern. The match is scheduled to be played at Old Fort Park in Murfreesboro, Tenn. However, if bad weather persists, the match will again be moved to Nashboro Village Athletic Club in Nashville, Tenn.

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