UC Irvine came into the matchup against Southwest Missouri State with a better record, but was put to the test; the Bears played better than the Anteaters expected.
The No. 74 UCI Men’s Tennis team (10-6) defeated SMS by one game, 4-3 on March 30. UCI clinched the game on court five with Anteater Mustafa Ulukan playing SMS’s Marcos Queirosz.
Ulukan had no idea the entire game rested on the result of his match.
‘I didn’t know it was tied,’ said Ulukan who also said he ‘aged two years’ in that singles match.
‘Some guys stepped it up big time,’ said UCI Head Coach Steve Clark. ‘That was the biggest match for Ulukan. Mustafa is the hero of the day.’
Perhaps just as important as Ulukan’s singles match was his doubles match with teammate, junior Peter Surapol.
In the doubles matches, UCI’s No. 1 pair of seniors Brian Morton and Ryusuke Kashiwabara fought hard to win their match against SMS’s Jiri Spousta and Pavel Hanek.
UCI was behind SMS, 4-3, until Morton and Kashiwabara used good thinking on the court and a nice rally win to end the game in their favor, 8-6.
It was a close match on court one but not as close on court two where UCI senior Arash Bormand and freshman Victor Lamm were never able to get a lead against SMS’s Nenad Curcic and Jeff Stone. SMS won the set, 8-2.
With each team with one doubles win apiece, the tie breaker was going to be on court three, where Surapol and Ulukan tried to control the game, but consistently let SMS’s John Kellert and Queirosz tie the game again.
The Bears had the lead, 2-1, at the start but UCI came back again and again to push the game to its advantage by a point, which ultimately led to an Anteater win, 8-6.
The doubles point went to UCI.
In singles play, Morton stayed on court one where SMS’s Spousta took the early lead of 2-1. Morton turned the game around when he led 5-6, but lost the final points to end the first set in SMS’s favor, 7-6.
Morton lost a crucial point in the first set when he got a one-point penalty for hitting the ball out of the court.
Morton was unable to gain any momentum again in the second set. The frustration could be read in Morton’s face throughout the game. Morton even threw his shoes away during the second set. SMS’s Spousta won the singles set, 7-6, 6-2.
In court two, the Bears’ Hanek took the first set, 6-3. UCI’s Kashiwabara fought for each shot in the second set, with a few rally wins for UCI to take the set, 6-4, pushing it to a third.
Most of the third set was always on a one-point difference between the two players. Kashiwabara maintained the lead, 3-2, 4-3 and 5-4, but Hanek came back with a win, 7-5 and the match victory of 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.
UCI’s Lamm struggled in the beginning of his first set on court three, 3-2, but continued to challenge SMS’s Curcic. Lamm won both his sets, 6-4, 6-4.
On court four, Surapol had a slow start, which cost him the first set, but he turned things around to win the second. The match was forced to a long third set, which kept each opponent going back and forth. The game ended with SMS’s Kellert gaining the win, 6-1, 2-6, 7-6(6).
Surpol said ‘[I] started off slow [then] played better. I was up, I should have won, but [Kellert] played better. He picked it up at the end.’
UCI junior Olof Sjolund put SMS’s Stone easily away with his powerful yet easy swings to defeat Stone, 6-1, 6-1.
Finally, court five was the last match still going on and clinched the win for UCI.
Ulukan won the first set but lost the second against the Bears’ Queirosz. The pressure was on Ulukan, but he stayed confident and won the last set. The match ended in Ulukan’s favor, 6-3, 1-6, 7-5.
Ulukan said he could not have won that match without the help of Assistant Coach Jon Endrikat.
‘I don’t think I would have won it if [Endrikat] was not on the court,’ Ulukan said. ‘[Endrikat] gave me my confidence back and told me what to do and not do.’
It was a hard-fought win to gain the doubles point for UCI, but well worth the effort as the team had been spending a lot of their practices playing doubles