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Tuesday, March 28, 2023 — Houston, TX

After jump in ranking, men's tennis falls against No. 17 Florida State

By Casey Michel     3/13/08 7:00pm

For the men's tennis team, the confines of Jake Hess Tennis Stadium are a welcome sight. In most instances, that is. The Owls, ranked 13th in the nation, found themselves rudely treated by a visiting Florida State University, which pulled out a 4-3 come-from-behind win last Tuesday. Rice's loss to the 17th-ranked Seminoles came on the heels of a California road swing that saw them drop two ranked opponents. However, those wins sandwiched a 7-0 blowout loss to the No. 6 University of California-Los Angeles on March 5, Rice's first road loss to a top-50 opponent this year.The Owls finally get a reprieve from their strenuous schedule, with an entire week off until their next match - a home contest against No. 26 Louisiana State University next Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. The Tigers have been streaky of late, winning three in a row after dropping a pair of matches to ranked foes, and boast only one player, No. 86 Michael Venus, in the top 115.

Rice, on the other hand, can lay claim to three players in the top 115, as revealed March 2 in the first computerized rankings of the year. In addition, Rice jumped 13 spots to No. 11 in the nation as of March 9, the team's highest ranking since June of 2004, when the Owls bowed out of the NCAA tournament after falling in the Round of 16.

However, according to sophomore Chong Wang, the high rankings may have created harmful contentment among a team which once downed the heavily favored No. 10 University of North Carolina.

"The main difference [between Rice and FSU] is they came out with so much more fire than us," Wang said. "We kind of addressed that issue last week, and I'm pretty sure we'll address it [again]. These other teams seem so hungry, but once the rankings came out, we feel like we're doing well. It's almost as if we feel like we're done, like we finished our thing. There's just not as much energy, not as much fire. I might be wrong, but I feel like the team we played today was an image of what we played like when we [beat] UNC and NC State."

That old fire was evident early on in the road swing, as the Owls bedeviled No. 50 San Diego State University 5-2. But two days later, and one day after the computerized rankings were released, UCLA brought Rice back to reality with a 7-0 beating. Two days later the Owls revamped their efforts, stomping No. 53 University of California-Irvine 7-0 and appearing to rebound from their loss to the Bruins.

Rice still looked like it had shaken off the UCLA loss as the Florida State match commenced, winning doubles at the top and bottom of the ladder. The 16th-ranked pair of senior Ralph Knupfer and sophomore Christoph Müller trounced the No. 30 tandem of Clint Bowles and Jean-Yves Aubone 8-5 to open play. Though Wang and senior Filip Zivojinovic dropped their match at No. 2, sophomore Bruno Rosa and freshman Vishnu Rajam - playing in only his third match of the year - took an 8-3 win at No. 3 to clinch the doubles point.

However, Rice's problems emerged as singles began. Knupfer's shoulder ailments proved to be too much to overcome, and he retired early. Florida State's Brad Mixson then put away sophomore Dennis Polyakov 6-4, 6-2 to give the Seminoles their first lead of the match.

At No. 2, Müller showed streaks of brilliance - a series of rapid volleys early in the second set ended with Müller sneaking the ball past Bowles' outstretched back-hand - but he could not sustain the momentum needed for the win. His quick 6-3, 6-3 loss was the third in a row for Rice and put the team behind 3-1.

Wang took some of the pressure off with a 6-3, 7-6 (3) win over Chris Cloer. The match was not without drama, however, as Wang found himself down 6-5 in the second set before rallying to bring the Owls within one.

Wang attributed his gutsy performance to a rather improbable source: nerves.

"I was a little tight actually, kind of nervous, which kind of shocked me," Wang said. "I had a feeling it was going to be really close, really tight, and I just had the little jitters before. But I kind of like them because it makes you focus a little more, makes you aware that you're in the match."

At No. 4, Zivojinovic burst out to an early 4-0 first set lead and looked ready to tally the tying point for Rice. However, Maciek Sykut caught fire to take 12 of the next 16 games and won the match 7-6 (3), 6-2. With Sykut's victory, the Seminoles clinched their tenth win of the season, while Rice dropped to 9-4 on the year.

No. 44 Rosa rounded out the day's scoring with a 7-6 (4), 2-6, 1-0 (6) win over No. 24 Aubone.

"We're even with [Florida State] on paper," head coach Ron Smarr said. "I knew it was going to come down to a 4-3 match one way or the other. ... Unfortunately, they played better on big points and they out-toughed us, simple as that.

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