AZUSA, Calif. -- Sophomore Janosch Apelt tasted defeat in a third-set singles tiebreaker that stacked the odds against the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific, but it was Apelt who finished off the doubles sweep that gave the Cougars a 5-4 comeback win over No. 6-ranked Vanguard Friday afternoon at the Munson & Bavougian Tennis Complex.
Sophomore Alex Lane and freshman Jochem Hoefnagels registered straight-set wins that tied the match at 2-2 during singles play, but Apelt and senior Mathias Weber each dropped 3-set decisions that dropped Azusa Pacific into a daunting 4-2 deficit. The only way for the Cougars to pull off the team win was with a doubles sweep, something it hadn’t accomplished against Vanguard since 2007.
Senior Matthijs Bolsius and Hoefnagels, ranked No. 8 in the NAIA national doubles rankings, dominated the NAIA’s No. 5 tandem, Tino Brodar and Lucas Pereira, to pull Azusa Pacific to within 4-3. Not far behind was a resounding 8-1 win at the No. 3 position from Lane and senior Ronald Chow, the tandem’s 10th straight doubles victory, putting the fate of the match into the hands of Apelt and Weber.
“Mathias helps me a lot, because his attitude is really good during doubles,” Apelt said. “He is a really good doubles player, and he makes me a better doubles player, as well. When he plays well, I play well.”
After dropping 2 of the first 3 games, Apelt and Weber rallied for 2 straight service breaks to pick up 5 straight games for a 6-2 lead. Both teams held serve the rest of the way in an 8-4 Cougar win that brought redemption to both Apelt and Weber, who extended their doubles winning streak to 7 matches.
“We know that if we play well, we are capable of winning a lot of games in a row,” Apelt said. “It doesn’t depend on the opponents, it’s really just on us. We practice doubles almost every day, and we know we’re a good doubles team. We have confidence, and we know that a good strategy is key against good doubles teams. There are so many little things happening in a match, and if they’re going your way, you can easily win 5 or 6 games in a row.”
Apelt split the first 2 sets at No. 2 singles with Vanguard’s Lucas Pereira, and the 2 battled to a 6-6 tie in the third set to force a tiebreaker for the match. Apelt raced out to a 3-0 lead, but Pereira responded with a run of 4 straight points before Apelt hit a forehand winner to tie the set at 4-4. Apelt then hit into the net and followed it with a double fault to give Pereira match point. A first-serve ace pulled Apelt to within 6-5, but a backhand on the ensuing rally missed long to give Pereira the 7-5 tiebreaker and a crucial win to wrap up singles play with Vanguard leading by a commanding 4-2 margin.
“I was really unhappy with my singles, because I really felt like I should have won,” Apelt said. “After singles, I wanted to show coach and my teammates that I wanted to go the extra mile and help win doubles for us.”
Weber won his opening singles set at the No. 5 position, posting a 6-4 win over Mark Tarjan. However, Tarjan rallied to win the next 2 sets, 6-1 and 6-3, to give Vanguard a 3-2 lead in the match as Apelt and Pereira battled deep into the third set.
With the win, its eighth in a row, Azusa Pacific improves to 14-3 overall, 8-2 in GSAC play, while Vanguard drops to 12-6 overall, 7-5 GSAC. The Cougars take on the NAIA’s top-ranked Fresno Pacific in another important conference matchup at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, April 12, at the Munson & Bavougian Tennis Complex, where Azusa Pacific is 10-1 this season.