March 6, 2005
Columbia, S.C. – The South Carolina men’s tennis team earned its second straight conference win and its 13th overall win of the season with a 4-3 come from behind upset of No. 9 Louisiana State on Sunday. The Gamecocks (11-3, 2-0 SEC) are now 2-0 in SEC play for the first time in school history, and the win over the Tigers (10-3, 0-2 SEC) is their biggest upset since knocking off then-No. 3 Ole Miss last April in Columbia. Junior Tom Eklund pulled off a shock upset of his own at No. 1 singles, downing fifth-ranked Ken Skupski in straight sets, while freshman Jaime Cuellar sealed the match at No. 4 singles and ran his unbeaten streak to 13 matches. LSU, coming off of a 5-2 loss at No. 7 Florida on Friday, came out swinging in the doubles matches, winning at Nos. 1 and 3 to take the point. Gamecocks Pedro Rodrigues and Geraldo Knorr were beaten at No. 1, 8-3, by 4th-ranked Ken Skupski and Mark Growcott. USC’s Dmitry Babenko and Ben Atkinson stayed with Peter Richman and Paul White, until the Tiger pair broke Babenko and Atkinson on back-to-back serves to take a 6-2 lead, before winning 8-3 to clinch the point for LSU. Carolina freshman Jaime Cuellar and junior Tom Eklund were tied and on-serve with 37th-ranked Jason Hazley and Danny Bryan when the match was suspended at 5-5.
The match would only get more interesting as it moved to singles. LSU’s Jason Hazley, ranked No. 95 in the nation, played one of his best matches of the season at No. 3 singles, defeating junior Geraldo Knorr 6-0, 6-2. Carolina’s sophomore transfer, Babenko, quickly won the first set over Danny Bryan at No. 5 singles. Bryan came back from 4-1 down in the second set to win three straight service breaks, before Babenko closed out the match with a 6-4 second set win. The Tigers would put the lead back at two points when Growcott ended Rodrigues’ second set rally, to win 6-4, 7-5 at No. 2 singles. On court six, USC senior Atkinson and Tiger freshman Kevin Dessauer traded quick set wins, both at 6-1, before Atkinson earned a crucial service break in the third set to take a 5-2 lead, before the senior from Yorkshire, England put Dessauer away with three powerful serves to win the set and match 6-2. With USC trailing 3-2, the match focused on the singles matches on courts one and four.
On court number one, USC junior Eklund, ranked No. 68 by the ITA, took on fifth-ranked sophomore Ken Skupski. There was just a single service break in the first set, but it was the one of the most crucial breaks of the day for USC. Up 6-5, Eklund hit a long cross-court forehand and forced Skupski’s to return into the net for the set point. In set number two, the players traded breaks early, and stayed on serve the rest of the way to a tiebreaker. In the tiebreaker, with Eklund leading 6-4, Skupski attempted a drop-shot return on Eklund’s backhand, but the ball hit the tape on the net and bounced on it before falling back on Skupski’s side giving Eklund the upset win, 7-5, 7-6(4). The win was the best of Eklund’s career, and is the highest ranked opponent a USC player has defeated in singles since All-American Seth Rose defeated 4th-ranked Janne Holmia of Florida in the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
With the match tied at three, all the attention was on court four, where USC freshman Jaime Cuellar took on LSU senior Peter Richman. The two players traded breaks in the first set before Richman broke Cuellar for a 6-5 lead and held serve to win the first set 7-5. Cuellar came back in the second, and after the two players traded back-to-back breaks halfway through the set, the El Salvador native broke Richman on set point to even the match at two sets apiece. Cuellar opened the third set with a 3-0 lead after breaking Richman in the second game. The Tigers’ senior and Cuellar stayed even the rest of the way, until Cuellar forced Richman’s final forehand into the net to seal his match and the match for USC. The win was the 18th of the season for Cuellar, and he kept his spring record perfect at 11-0, the best start to a career in USC history.
The USC men’s tennis team will return to action this Wednesday, as they travel to Las Vegas, Nevada and step out of conference to take on the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV. The match is scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET. The Gamecocks will follow that up with their first SEC road match of the season at Kentucky, slated to start at 1 p.m. on Friday, March 11. Carolina returns home to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores on Sunday, March 13. That match is set to begin at 1 p.m. at the Sam Daniel Tennis Center. The match is open to the public and admission is free. The Sam Daniel Tennis Center is located on Heyward St., between Sumter and South Marion, adjacent to Sarge Frye Field.