WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (MSU Athletics/WTVA) - Down 9-6 in the deciding 10-point match tiebreaker in Friday's NCAA Round of 16 doubles match, it was now or never for Mississippi State's top-ranked and top-seeded duo of Nuno Borges and Strahinja Rakic.
The tandem chose the "now" option, stunning Wisconsin's 14th-ranked Chema Carranza and Josef Dodridge by taking the final five points in the breaker for a 0-6, 7-5, 1-0(9) triumph to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Doubles Championship. Borges, the No. 3 seed in singles, also reached the quarters in the NCAA Singles Championship earlier in the day by taking a 7-6(7), 7-5 triumph over Florida's No. 14 Alfredo Perez, rallying from down a service break in both sets for the victory.
UW's Carranza and Dodridge started off on a tear in the afternoon doubles affair, winning the first seven games to go up 6-0, 1-0 on the State duo. The Bulldogs fought back and took a 3-1 lead in the second. However, the Badger tandem broke back to 3-3 and the teams traded service holds until Wisconsin led 5-4 with a chance to seal the match. But Borges and Rakic stood strong against the Big Ten's top doubles team, holding at love, then breaking and holding again to take the second frame to force a 10-point match tiebreaker for the second straight day.
Wisconsin went up 4-2 quickly, but MSU evened it up at 4-all. Then, Carranza and Dodridge won five of the next seven points to take a seemingly insurmountable 9-6 lead, with three match point chances. The Bulldog All-American tandem stormed back, fending off three straight match points – the first two with the Badgers serving – to force a 9-all tie. The Bulldogs then took a 10-9 lead with UW serving. After a brief rally, Borges landed a strong volley out of the Badger pair's reach to send the duo to the national quarterfinals, the first Bulldog pair to make the NCAA quarters since 2000. The win came less than 24 hours after Borges and Rakic overcame a 7-4 deficit in a deciding super tiebreaker in the first round against Louisville.
"We stuck together as a team and tried to support each other as much as we could," Rakic said. "We tried to stay calm, even after losing the first set. When we were down 9-6 (in the third set tiebreaker), we said this was it, it was now or never. We found a way to win. I am still shocked that we pulled it out two days in a row. It shows the support we have between each other and how much we trust each other on the court."
Borges and Rakic are now set to face UCLA's 29th-ranked Martin Redlicki and Evan Zhu in Saturday's quarterfinals, with match time set for approximately 3 p.m. ET (2 p.m. CT). The Bruin duo advanced by taking a 7-5, 6-3 victory against UCF's Korey Lovett and Eero Vasa, a 5-8 seed in the tourney.
"Strahinja and Nuno gave us another great effort," head coach Matt Roberts said. "They kept plugging away and problem-solving and came out on top. We get to play another day and that's a luxury to have at this time of year."
For the second straight day in the singles draw, the second-ranked and third-seeded Borges faced a familiar foe—this time taking on Florida's 14th-ranked Alfredo Perez, a 9-16 seed. Perez opened by going up a break on the two-time All-American Borges, building a 3-1 lead early in the first set. After Perez went up 4-2, Borges held and then broke back to knot up the score at 4-all. From there, the two-time SEC Player of the Year delivered an ace on a deciding point to go up 5-4. With Borges up 6-5 and needing to break to win the set, Perez held to force a set tiebreak.
The tiebreaker was just as back-and-forth as the last half of the set, with Borges taking a 3-1 lead before Perez went up 4-3. Down 6-5, Borges held one point to tie up the breaker at 6-all, but Perez grabbed the next point to go up a mini break at 7-6 with a chance to go up a set. Borges then dug deep to claim the final three points of the breaker and the set, 7-6(7).
Perez then stormed to a commanding 5-2 lead in the second frame. But Borges would not be rattled, taking the final five games for a 7-6(7), 7-5 victory, which propelled Borges to his second NCAA quarterfinal appearance in as many seasons, making the junior the first Bulldog to ever make the quarters twice in a career. In four meetings, Borges is now 4-0 against Perez. Borges is also the first Bulldog since Joc Simmons (1994) to reach the NCAA quarterfinals in both singles and doubles in the same season. Simmons reached the quarterfinals in singles and won the NCAA doubles crown that year with Laurent Miquelard.
"Nuno's match was in straight sets, but it wasn't exactly easy," Roberts said. "He fought very hard mentally and was extremely tough. He did what he had to do and achieved the goals he set for himself, and that's all we can ask for."
In Saturday's quarterfinals, Borges will face another SEC foe in Tennessee's Timo Stodder, who is currently ranked 16th nationally and is a 9-16 alphabetical seed in the singles draw. Borges won the regular season meeting against Stodder, taking tight a 7-6(1), 5-7, 6-4 triumph on April 1 in Knoxville. Borges also took the players' only other meeting in 2017 in Starkville. Stodder reached the quarters with a 6-1, 6-3 victory against Arkansas' José Salazar Friday.
Rounding out MSU's competition on Friday morning, Giovanni Oradini began the day facing a tall task in UCLA's top-ranked Martin Redlicki. The UCLA senior mounted a 3-0 lead before Oradini delivered a pair of aces to cut the Bruin's lead to 3-1. From there, Redlicki won three of the final four games to take the first set, 6-2.
In the second set, Redlicki once again went up 3-0 before Oradini held to make it 3-1 Redlicki then won the final three games to take the set and match, 6-2, 6-1.
"Gio had a tough one today, but our message to him was all about the improvement and maturity he has displayed all year long," Roberts said. "It didn't go his way today, but he has built up some unbelievable momentum going into the summer and is going to prepare himself in a great way for this fall."
Oradini ended his superb sophomore season – which saw him earn All-America and First Team All-SEC honors - with a team-leading 33 singles victories, eighth in program history for singles wins in a season. Coupled with his 23 doubles wins, he stands 10th all-time in a single season with his 56 total wins in 2017-18.
MSU In The 2018 NCAA Singles & Doubles Championships
May 25, 2018 – Winston-Salem, N.C. (Wake Forest Tennis Complex)
Round of 16– #1 Martin Redlicki  (UCLA) def. #23 Giovanni Oradini (MSU) 6-2, 6-1; #2 Nuno Borges  (MSU) def. #14 Alfredo Perez [9-16] (Florida) 7-6(7), 7-5.
Round of 16– #1 Nuno Borges/Strahinja Rakic  (MSU) def. #14 Chema Carranza/Josef Dodridge (Wisconsin) 0-6, 7-5, 1-0(9).