George Coupland returns a shot for Mississippi State Friday. (Photo by Michael Wardlaw, SDN)
It was exactly the start the ninth-ranked Mississippi State men's tennis team needed against the Tennessee Volunteers Friday in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
After falling behind early in their doubles match, the 35th-ranked team of Artem Ilyushin and George Coupland won 8-6 to help the Bulldogs take the doubles point.
Mississippi State went on to claim three of the six singles matches to win a 4-2 decision at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre.
"The doubles point is always huge," Coupland said. "I feel like if our team can win the doubles point and show up strong in singles we have a great chance at winning. We played well in doubles. I didn't see much of the No. 3 match, but at 1 and 2, we played some pretty good doubles.
"I thought me and Artem played well (Friday) actually. The boys (from Tennessee) are good players and if you let them play the way they want to play, they will kill you."
Ilyushin and Coupland fell behind 1-0 and 2-1, but rallied to take a 4-2 lead.
Tennessee's Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese tied the match 4-4, but Mississippi State closed out the victory.
Louis Cant and Malte Stropp captured the other doubles match 8-3 to help the Bulldogs establish the advantage.
MSU men's tennis coach Per Nilsson said experiencing success in doubles is key in defeating some of the best teams in the country.
"We would lose a match last year," Nilsson said after dropping the doubles point against top 25 ranked squads. "This year we've beaten some and won. I knew before that doubles was huge because winning three (in singles), we can do that against anyone, but winning four, we'd have to play really well. I was happy to get that."
The Bulldogs went up a break in the first set of five of the six singles matches.
Cant was the first to clinch, winning 6-3, 6-0, while Coupland won his match 6-4, 6-4, and Zach White's victory on court No. 6 was the difference.
White was able to come back from losing the first set 6-7 to take the next two sets 6-4 and 6-3.
"I'm so excited for Zach because many times when he loses the first set, he's had a little bit of a letdown," Nilsson said. "For him to come back from that is huge for us because he hasn't been able to do that in the past. In a key match like this, it means everything and maybe it will be a turn around for him."
White likes the way he's handling situations better as a sophomore than he did as a freshman.
"In my freshman year, when I'd lose the first set, there's a guarantee I'd lose the second set, but I've learned from that," White said. "I've learned to deal with adversity. I'm still fighting."
It will be a battle of Bulldogs in the semifinals today as MSU takes on second-ranked Georgia at 11 a.m.
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