MOBILE, Ala. -- Statistically, Azusa Pacific’s chances at a national title were all but dashed after top-seeded Auburn Montgomery (Ala.) swept all 3 doubles points to begin the championship match at the 56th Annual NAIA Men’s Tennis National Championship, but the second-seeded Cougars laid the foundation for a miraculous comeback before a second-set tiebreaker dashed their hopes and sealed a 5-0 defeat. It was Azusa Pacific’s fifth straight championship match appearance and the third against Auburn Montgomery.
“For some reason, it never feels that great being in second place, but this team accomplished a lot,” said Cougar head coach Mark Bohren. “They won the GSAC again, and at the beginning of the season, I didn’t even think we could do that. I thought if we played well this year, I thought we might finish in the top 10, but we were right there all season and had a lot of good wins. There’s so much learning and experience involved, we just didn’t have enough to get us over the hump today.”
Azusa Pacific’s first and third doubles teams each suffered the same fate, an 8-3 defeat that dropped the Cougars into a 2-0 deficit, but the No. 2 doubles tandem of David Goodman and Matthijs Bolsius took a 7-5 lead and had a chance to give the Cougars momentum heading into singles play.
However, Auburn Montgomery’s Victor Sanaki Papi and Nikola Miskovic stole the point away with 4 straight game victories to post a 9-7 win and complete the doubles sweep. Down 3-0, Azusa Pacific had to win 5 of the 6 singles matches. According to studies of collegiate tennis results, teams that sweep doubles in the 9-point system utilized by the NAIA end up winning matches nearly 99% of the time.
The Cougars went into singles without the services of its regular No. 3 player Mathias Weber, who suffered an injury at the end of yesterday’s semifinal match. Weber battled through an 8-3 defeat with Patrick Kur at No. 1 doubles, but he was scratched from the singles lineup, moving the Cougars’ fourth through sixth singles players up a spot, with Robby Dabbs filling out the singles lineup in the No. 6 slot.
“We had 9 new freshmen on the team this year, so this was a good experience for a lot of these guys,” said Bohren. “I think they were pretty nervous in the doubles, and it didn’t help with Weber being injured, but it was a great season. If they want to win a national championship, that process starts tomorrow, and they got a lot of good experience here. Our 2 seniors may be a little down, but they won a national championship in 2005, and the other guys will have their opportunities down the road.”
Tim Mudrick’s 6-2, 6-0 win over Dabbs at No. 6 singles put Auburn Montgomery within a point of clinching its second straight NAIA crown, but the 5 remaining Cougars simply were not willing to hand over the title just yet. Goodman, Kur, Ronald Chow and Art Fatkhiev each won their respective opening sets.
The attention quickly shifted to the No. 3 court, where Bolsius dropped the first set to Sanaki Papi, 6-4. The Cougar freshman, successful in each of his first 3 NAIA Tournament singles contests this week, took the early lead in the second set and appeared headed to a decisive third set before Sanaki Papi tied the set at 6-6 to force a 7-point set tiebreaker with Azusa Pacific’s tournament life on the line.
Bolsius was up to the task and took a 5-4 lead with a series of solid ground strokes, but a tiring Sanaka Papi tied it at 5-5, served an ace for a 6-5 advantage and eventually sealed the match victory when a tough overhand for Bolsius missed the mark.
“(A third set) would have gone our way for sure,” said Bohren, “because the guy was exhausted. We knew (Mathias) Weber wasn’t going to be able to play singles, but after he came out we fought like crazy, and if Matthijs had been able to pull it out, it could have been a very interesting match.”
At No. 2 singles, Kur won the first set and was tied at 4-4 in the second, and Goodman had a 1-game lead after scoring an opening-set win at No. 1 singles over Anton Brykalin. Chow won an opening-set tiebreaker for a 7-6 win for a 1-set advantage, and Fatkhiev was a 6-4 opening-set winner at No. 5 singles.
“We’re going to have a great opportunity to be competitive next year, although it will hurt to lose David (Goodman),” said Bohren. “Every year, we’ve lost great players, but guys in the program have stepped their games up and decided that they wanted to keep the tradition alive. We’ve been here 5 years in a row, and I don’t know why we couldn’t be here again next year.”
With the defeat, Azusa Pacific drops to 27-4 to wrap up the season, while Auburn Montgomery caps its title run with a final record of 23-2.
#1 - Anton Brykalin (AUM) vs. David Goodman (APU), DNF
#2 - Daniel Plasa (AUM) vs. Patrick Kur (APU), DNF
#3 - Victor Sanaki Papi (AUM) def. Matthijs Bolsius (APU), 6-4, 7-6(5)
#4 - Alex Petropuolos (AUM) vs. Ronald Chow (APU), DNF
#5 - Nikola Miskovic (AUM) vs. Art Fatkhiev (APU), DNF
#6 - Tim Mudrick (AUM) def. Robbie Dabbs (APU), 6-2, 6-0
#1 - A. Brykalin/D. Plasa (AUM) def. P. Kur/M. Weber (APU), 8-3
#2 - V. Sanaki Papi/N. Miskovic (AUM) def. D. Goodman/M. Bolsius (APU), 9-7
#3 - T. Murdick/A. Petropoulos (AUM) def. R. Chow/R. Dabbs (APU), 8-3