By Shehan Jeyarajah
To win a national championship, several things have to go just right. In addition to being technically sound and sticking to a game plan, a team has to capitalize on its advantages to earn the ultimate crown.
On Monday, Baylor tennis had the heat on its side. With the match winding down, both No. 42 Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and No. 77 Collin Altamirano had to get medical treatment for the heat.
“It was hot out there,” Virginia head coach Brian Boland said. “The guys just kept battling, which is something that they’ve gone on and done all year long. This team has a lot of resilience and toughness.”
Baylor failed to capitalize on an early doubles point and several weakened Cavaliers as the No. 2 Bears fell 4-2 to No. 3 Virginia to end their season in the Final Four at the Hurd Tennis Center in Waco.
Down 2-1 early in the singles set, Baylor looked for an opening on any court. At points throughout, it seemed to find rhythm.
After getting dominated in the first set 6-0, senior Tony Lupieri fought back 6-2 to force a deciding third set. Lupieri found a new wind and rode it almost to the finish line.
Concurrently on court four, senior Diego Galeano was forced into a grind by Kwiatkowski. The No. 19 player in the nation played in the four spot, but showed all the traits of why he is ranked so highly. Galeano won the first set 6-3, but dropped the second 4-6.
Throughout, the Galeano/Kwiatkowski matchup was controversial. At separate times, both players exchanged words with the umpire over calls. The match came down a hotly contested deuce, with Galeano down 2-1 in the third set.
After a tiebreak which lasted over 10 minutes, Galeano emerged victorious and Kwiatkowski emerged exhausted. From that point on, Galeano dominated the match. In between Galeano’s fourth and fifth game wins, Kwiatkowski let several points go and received attention for dehydration. Galeano won five straight games to win the match 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
But after Galeano’s shining win, the Bears fell apart. Lupieri went down 6-5, but forced a deciding deuce. On court three, No. 58 sophomore Max Tchoutakian rallied from 4-1 to 5-4 in the deciding third set.
“I think what happened [to Tchoutakian] was his opponent took extended breaks at the end of the first and second set and kind of froze him out,” Baylor head coach Matt Knoll said. “I think he made seven unforced errors to make the second and third.”
Within seconds of each other, No. 20 Mitchell Frank blasted a winner to beat Lupieri and Tchoutakian hit a backhand into the net to give Altamirano the win. The two points were enough that No. 116 senior Mate Zsiga’s rally on court five was moot and Virginia won 4-2.
The Bears lost despite winning a grueling doubles point. The No. 8 partnernship of Lenz and Galeano upset No. 2 Luca Corinteli and Ryan Shane 8-4.
Lupieri and Zsiga lost on court two, which brought all eyes to a tiebreak set on court three. Vince Schneider and Rios pulled out a lengthy tiebreak 8-7(6) to give Baylor the first point of the match.
After such a positive start to the match, Lenz and Rios both lost in straight sets to give Virginia its quick 2-1 lead.
No. 3 Virginia will play No. 1 Oklahoma on Tuesday in the national championship match at the Hurd Tennis Center.