With the match on the line for the SIU men’s tennis team, freshman Szymon Opieczonek won in the third set 7-6 (7-5), 1-6, 6-4 at No. 6 singles to clinch the 4-3 victory for the Salukis.
Fans gathered around the far court Saturday at University Courts to watch Opieczonek and the Salukis take on the Braves of Bradley University. Opieczonek said he did not feel any added pressure, even with his match being the one that would decide if the team won or lost.
“I didn’t think it put the pressure on me … I play better with this kind of pressure,” Opieczonek said. “I start focusing more on my shots to go to approach and finishing at the net and I think that helped me.”
Before the Salukis clinched the overall win during singles, the match started with drama in doubles play. After juniors Badr Cherradi and Jordan Snyder defeated their opponents 8-2 and, Opieczonek and junior Orhan Spahic lost 8-6, the doubles point came down to the No. 1 doubles team of senior Stanislas Rodier and junior Brandon Florez. The partners won 9-8(7-6) after a close tiebreak. Florez said the two made big plays to battle during from 2-4 down during the tiebreak.
“I missed my first serve and then I hit a huge second serve, won that point. Then I played a incredible point, hit a huge return, a huge backhand then hit another backhand,” Florez said. “Stan was the one who hit the put away shot for that point, then it was 4-4 and that was when it turned around.”
During singles play, there was no shortage of drama for the Salukis as No. 1 singles Cherradi had several disputes about calls against his opponent. Cherradi would lose 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, but the junior felt like he was cheated out of a victory.
“I got cheated by the guy twice… I tried to stay focused but in the third set he did the same,” said Cherradi. “I not going to say I lost because of this… but I hate when someone cheats against me, in a match like this, especially when we need my point and I’m suppose to win my matches.”
Florez also lost a close match at No. 2 singles after three sets 6-1, 4-6, 7-5. Florez was up 4-1 in the second set, but could not put away his opponent. Rodier won at No. 2 6-2, 6-2. Rafael Cuadrillero made quick work of his opponent 6-1, 6-0 at No. 4, but Spahic lost at No. 4 singles 7-5, 6-0. The Salukis entered the final match tied 3-3, Nelson said Opieczonek was clutch with his dramatic win.
“That was big for a freshman to come up with a team clinching win like that, it was very, very nice to see,” Nelson said.
The match against the Redbirds Sunday was Senior Day for the men’s tennis team as seniors Rodier and Snyder (academically a senior) were honored before the game. Against Illinois State the Salukis could not pull off the spectacular win however as they lost a close match 4-3. The Salukis dropped the doubles point as Florez and Rodier, and Cherradi and Snyder lost 8-6 and 9-7 respectively. Opieczonek and Spahic claimed the only doubles victory with an 8-6 win.
After the dropped doubles point the Salukis needed to win at least four out of six possible singles matches. Cherradi won at No. 1, 2-6, 7-6 (7-3), 7-5 after he forced a third set. Rodier won at No. 2, 6-2, 6-3 and Florez won 3-6, 6-3 after his opponent had to retire with an injury. With wins from the top three seeds, the bottom three went winless for the Salukis to seal to loss. Spahic lost 6-1, 6-4 and Opieczonek lost 7-5, 6-1 at No. 4 and 6 respectively. Cuadrillero was able force a third set, but ultimately lost 3-6, 7-6(7-5), 6-1.
Nelson said the team was drained after the previous day’s intense matches. The Salukis must re-group Friday for the MVC Championships.
Akeem Glaspie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 536-331 ext. 269