STARKVILLE, Miss. (MSU Athletics/WTVA) - Another storybook season ended for the Mississippi State men’s tennis team on Saturday, as the seventh-ranked Bulldogs dropped a close 4-2 decision to No. 9 TCU in the NCAA Round of 16 at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre. MSU was one of only eight national hosts for the new NCAA Super Regional format introduced this season in college tennis.
State (24-4) fought valiantly after dropping the doubles point and came out firing in singles to take a 2-1 lead after a lengthy weather delay, but the Horned Frogs (22-6) held strong and captured a pair of three-set decisions down the stretch to close it out and move on to the NCAA quarterfinals this Thursday in Orlando.
“TCU played a great doubles point and made it tough for us to close out some sets and matches,” head coach Matt Roberts said. “We needed to take those opportunities to put ourselves in a better situation down the stretch. We had a heck of a crowd today, and we want to thank our amazing fan base for coming out and supporting us this season. We hate that the season is over, but we’re excited to keep this program rolling with the culture we have that our four seniors have built.”
The Horned Frogs gained an early advantage in the doubles point when Luc Fomba and Sander Jong downed MSU’s Trevor Foshey and Gregor Ramskogler in a 6-2 decision on court 3. Minutes later, State’s 32nd-ranked Niclas Braun and Giovanni Oradini extended their winning streak to six matches with a 6-3 victory over TCU’s No. 22 Bertus Kruger and Reese Stalder on court 2.
TCU’s No. 15 Alastair Gray and Alex Rybakov then went on to provide the point-clincher with a 6-3 upset of State’s third-ranked team of Nuno Borges and Strahinja Rakic on court 1.
Midway through the first sets in singles, lightning and heavy rains pelted the Starkville area, causing a weather delay of nearly three hours.
When play resumed, an illustrious streak continued for State’s top-ranked Borges, as he finished off a 6-1, 6-4 victory over TCU’s No. 4 Rybakov on court 1 to knot things up at 1-all. That win moved the MSU senior into a tie for the longest singles win streak in program history at 26 matches, matching All-American Thomas Dupre’s streak set in 1996-97. Borges also become the first Bulldog ever to go undefeated during a dual match season, posting an unprecedented 25-0 mark - all at the No. 1 position - in 2019.
Moments later, Rakic gave MSU a 2-1 lead with a convincing 6-3, 6-2 triumph over the Horned Frogs’ Stalder on court 3. The win marked the fourth straight for the Serbian senior and the seventh in his last eight decisions.
The Horned Frogs would put the next point on the board when Fomba downed Foshey 7-5, 6-3 on court 5 to make it 2-all. That decision halted Foshey’s 10-match winning streak entering Saturday.
The remaining three courts would all be decided in tight three-set battles, with both teams needing two of them to secure the victory.
The first to finish would be Kruger who held off State’s Braun at the No. 4 spot. Kruger took a close first set 7-5 before Braun evened things with a 6-4 second set decision. In the third, Kruger jumped to an early lead and never looked back in a 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 decision to put the Horned Frogs up 3-2.
TCU’s 28th-ranked Alastair Gray then outlasted State’s 61st-ranked Oradini at the No. 2 spot, after the Bulldog forced a third set, to clinch the match. In the third, Gray quickly went up a break at 2-0, but Oradini broke right back and held to even it at 2-all. The Horned Frog then held before breaking Oradini’s serve again to go up 4-2. Gray went on to serve it out and clinch the victory for TCU and send his team to the NCAA quarterfinals.
In the remaining match on court, TCU’s Sander Jong was up 2-6, 7-6(7), 5-4 over MSU’s Florian Broska when play was suspended.
Saturday’s match marked an end to an incredible run by MSU’s “Fantastic Four” seniors of Borges, Braun, Foshey and Rakic, who amassed a program-best 85 team wins in their four years. The group led State to the NCAA Round of 16 three times in four seasons, including the quarterfinals in 2018. Additionally, the quartet helped the team reach the semifinals or better in the SEC Championship all four years, including the tourney final in 2017, 2018, and 2019 - the final two resulting in back-to-back SEC Tournament crowns.
Although the 2019 dual match season has concluded for the Maroon and White, four Bulldogs are slated to compete in the 2019 NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships, to be held May 20-25 at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida, following the team championship. Borges is the No. 1 seed in the singles field of 64 and is looking to improve on his back-to-back semifinal finishes the past two seasons. He will also make up half of the third-seeded doubles pair with Rakic. The duo reached the quarterfinals a year ago as the No. 1 seed en route to earning All-American honors.
Joining Borges and Rakic in Orlando will be Niclas Braun and Giovanni Oradini, who earned an at-large bid to the doubles tourney. Oradini also will play in the singles championship after earning All-American laurels last season by reaching the Round of 16.
For more information on the Mississippi State men’s tennis program, follow “HailStateMT” on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
No. 9 TCU  4, No. 7 Mississippi State  2
2019 NCAA Championship – Super Regional (Round of 16)
May 11, 2019
A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre – Starkville, Mississippi
1. #15 Alastair Gray/Alex Rybakov (TCU) def. #3 Nuno Borges/Strahinja Rakic (MSU) 6-3
2. #32 Niclas Braun/Giovanni Oradini (MSU) def. #22 Bertus Kruger/Reese Stalder (TCU) 6-3
3. Luc Fomba/Sander Jong (TCU) def. Trevor Foshey/Gregor Ramskogler (MSU) 6-2
Order of finish: 3,2,1
1. #1 Nuno Borges (MSU) def. #4 Alex Rybakov (TCU ) 6-1, 6-4
2. #28 Alastair Gray (TCU) def. #61 Giovanni Oradini (MSU) 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-3
3. Strahinja Rakic (MSU) def. Reese Stalder (TCU) 6-3, 6-2
4. Bertus Kruger (TCU) def. Niclas Braun (MSU) 7-5, 4-6, 6-2
5. Luc Fomba (TCU) def. Trevor Foshey (MSU) 7-5, 6-3
6. Florian Broska (MSU) vs. Sander Jong (TCU) 6-2, 6-7(7), 4-5 (susp.)
Order of finish: 1,3,5,4,2
Numbers preceding names are current ITA national rankings