FORT WORTH, Texas — The UTA men’s tennis team (16-8, 5-0) had two goals as it entered the NCAA Tournament on Friday: the first was to advance past the first round, which it had never done before. The second was to defeat No. 2 Texas Christian University, which it had also failed to do the last 20 times. It couldn’t accomplish either.
The Mavericks — outpowered, outplayed and outrallied — were defeated by TCU for the 21st consecutive time, losing 4-0 at the Bayard H. Friedman Tennis Center.
It was the consistency of TCU’s players that halted the men’s tennis team. A couple of break points came up during the three simultaneous doubles games that the Mavericks could have taken, but didn’t.
That ultimately decided the outcome of the match.
Head coach Diego Benitez said his team was right there with its opponent until the last minute of the doubles point. However, TCU seized the important moments to grab the point and then came out tough in the singles matches.
“They just play solid all through, the player, amazing level of tennis,” Benitez said.
Throughout the Mavericks’ journey to capture the Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship, they never dropped their doubles point and had always gotten the important lead. Even though freshmen Joan Torres Espinosa and Lachlan Robertson quickly dropped their match, 6-2, on Court 3, it could have gone either way on the other courts.
But it didn’t go UTA’s way.
Failing to capitalize on one break point in the seventh game, sophomore Anton Shepp and senior Solano Caffarena immediately dropped serve in the eighth game on Court 1. TCU successfully served it out to win 6-3 and gained the doubles point while Court 2’s match went unfinished.
“We face a very tough team, No. 2 in the nation, national title contenders, but I'm happy with the season. I’m happy with the way they play today,” Benitez said.
When UTA faced TCU in March, the Mavericks lost 7-0, losing all the matches in straight sets. The scenario repeated this time. At one point in the first set of singles matches, TCU either led 4-1 or 5-1 on five out of six courts.
On Court 6, Espinosa stayed energized and covered the court well in the first set. At one point, he broke his opponent’s service game to lead 5-4 and was going to serve for the set, looking to capture UTA’s first set against TCU this semester. It seemed like he was the only hope.
He got broken. Then he proceeded to lose the set 7-5.
On Court 3, after Caffarena quickly lost his first set, 6-1, he came back and regained pace to break his opponent in the sixth game for a 4-2 lead in the second.
He also got broken back. They were at 4-4 when all ongoing matches were stopped since TCU had earned the four needed points to win.
Within seconds, TCU secured three singles matches. On Court 5, freshman Dante Teramo was quickly beaten by his opponent, losing 6-1, 6-3. On Court 3, freshman Santiago Giamichelle rushed the ball while his second serve was constantly attacked by his opponent, who’s ranked No. 62 in the country. He lost 6-1, 6-3.
While Shepp brought energy to Court 1, his TCU opponent, who’s ranked No. 21 player in the country, painted the corners and executed clean drop shots for a 6-3, 6-1 win and the decisive point for TCU’s victory.
The loss ended UTA’s tennis season. While the men’s won the championship to become the first UTA team to represent the WAC in the NCAA Tournament this season, the women’s team’s season ended in an upset to Grand Canyon University in the semifinal match of the conference tournament. Both teams were the No. 1 seeds in the tournament.
Athletics director Jon Fagg said he was proud of the team, who represented the WAC well. He said it was great to be out there supporting them.
“Tennis is an international sport, and it's kind of a microcosm of the university in general,” Fagg said. “It's really similar to the university, so it's really fun to see them do well and represent the university like they do.”
President Jennifer Cowley, who sat with Fagg at the game, said she appreciates what the players had accomplished this season and is looking forward to seeing them next season. “We fought as hard as we could,” Cowley said.
Since he has a young men’s team, with five freshmen and one sophomore out of nine players, Benitez said it’s huge that they got exposed to this situation early in their careers.
“Hopefully, this will help for the coming years, we're gonna be a little bit more ready,” he said.
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