On one end of the Student Tennis Center, the Utah men’s tennis team sat in a circle, stretching, laughing and chatting nonstop. On the other side, Oregon’s players also stretched, but not of them made a sound. They stared blankly into space, looking physically and emotionally defeated.
The two teams had just finished one of their tightest matches of the season, and the outcome was crystal clear based on the teams’ stretching circles. The Utes (13-5, 1-2 Pac-12) came back to beat the Ducks (14-4, 0-3 Pac-12) 4-2 Friday afternoon in Eugene.
“I felt like we backed off,” head coach Nils Schyllander said after the match. “We put ourselves in positions we didn’t need to be in and didn’t play the big points aggressively enough.”
The Ducks started off well, controlling the doubles matches from the opening serve. In the No. 1 doubles match, Oregon’s duo of Robin Cambier and Kevin Farin took an early 4-1 lead and traded sets the rest of the way, prevailing 8-5 over Utah’s Slim Hanza and Cedric Willems.
The other two groups for Oregon took early 3-0 leads and didn’t let up the rest of the way. Oregon’s No. 3 team of Jayson Amos and Daniel Sardu won 8-5 over Matt Cowley and Alejandro Medinilla to give the Ducks the doubles victory, putting the team up 1-0 early.
The No. 2 group Joey Swaysland and Daan Maasland led Ben Tasevac and Devin Lane 7-2 when the No. 3 match concluded.
Oregon continued to play well at the beginning of singles play. Sardu controlled the No. 4 match, beating Willens in straight sets 6-2, 6-4.
But the tide turned after that.
Swaysland battled but couldn’t take a set from Lane, who won 6-4, 6-4 to cut the Oregon lead to 2-1.
After losing the first set 6-3 to Hamza, Cambier dominated the second 6-2. The third set was much closer, and Cambier held a 3-2 lead. But Hamza won three of the next four games to take the set and the No. 1 match, tying the overall score at 2-2.
The final three matches went down to the wire.
Farin took the first set 7-6 over Tasevac in the No. 2 singles, but Tasevac came back in the second to win by the same score. The two consistently traded games and break points during the first two sets.
In the final set, Farin trailed 4-5 with the game tied at 40-40. Tasevac hit a close shot down the line and Farin challenged, but the official overruled it. That was the second time a Farin challenge was overruled during the match, thus giving Tasevac two points and the match. Farin looked disappointed but showed no anger towards the call.
The Ducks trailed 3-2 at this point, meaning they needed to win both of the final matches while Utah needed to win just one.
Maasland, in the No. 3 match, was playing in a tight third set, although he’ll likely be thinking about the first set for a while. With a 5-1 lead, Maasland needed to win one more game to take the first set, while his opponent, Medinilla, needed to win six straight. Medinilla did just that for one of the most important set victories of the entire match.
Maasland bounced back, though, winning the final three games to take the second set 6-3.
While Maasland and Medinilla were engaged in a tight third set, Amos was making a Medinilla-esque comeback. Amos lost the first set to Cowley 4-6 but tied the match up with a 7-6 second set victory. In the third, Amos trailed 5-1 but won four straight sets to at least give himself two more. Cowley and Amos traded the next two sets to set up a tiebreaker.
Amos took an early 3-0 lead in the tiebreaker, thanks in part to a two-point play in which Cowley’s had a challenge overruled for the second time in the match. But Cowley roared back, winning six straight points, needing just one to gain the decisive victory. After Amos took the next two points, the two players had a fairly long rally, but Amos hit the net on a return, sealing the match and the team victory for Utah.
“(Amos) did a good job fighting back, but he needed to play to win in the tiebreaker,” Schyllander said. “Hopefully he’ll learn from that.”
Maasland was down 6-5 when Amos lost, and his match went unfinished.
The Ducks will take on Arizona (11-11, 0-3) Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Eugene.
“Tomorrow’s huge,” Schyllander said. “We’ll be ready to go.”
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415