CARY, N.C. – It took a pair of thrilling come-from-behind performances on Saturday, but Amherst College’s Austin Chafetz and Luis Rattenhuber capped off their incredible season by winning the NCAA doubles championship at Cary Tennis Park.
Trailing 5-3 and facing match point in the finals, the Lord Jeff duo rallied to win 10 of the final 13 games against Gustavus Adolphus’ Amrik Donkena and Mya Smith-Dennis, the tournament’s top seed (4-6, 7-5, 6-3).
Chafetz and Rattenhuber advanced to last year’s quarterfinal round and returned as one of the country’s best tandems in 2012, becoming the first Amherst pair to claim the NCAA doubles title on the men’s side.
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Saturday marked the end of a long week for Chafetz and Rattenhuber, who also competed in the quarterfinals of the team championship and were part of the national singles tournament. Last year, they helped lead Amherst to the program’s first team title as one of the Lord Jeffs’ top pairings.
After winning one match on Thursday and another yesterday, the Lord Jeffs kicked off the final day of competition by losing the first set to Johns Hopkins’ Warren Elgort and Jacob Barnaby in the semifinals, 7-6 (7-5). Chafetz and Rattenhuber then trailed three games to none in the second set, but they battled their way back for a 6-4 victory.
With the Amherst and Johns Hopkins teams tied at three games apiece in the third set, it was the Lord Jeffs who gained breathing room by winning back-to-back games for a 5-3 lead. The Blue Jays got one back, but Chafetz and Rattenhuber punched their ticket to the finals with a 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4 final.
The first game would prove to be the difference maker in the opening set of the title match, as Donkena and Smith-Dennis broke Amherst’s serve and never relinquished the lead. Gustavus gained a 2-0 advantage and both teams held serve the rest of the way, as the Gusties took the first set by a score of 6-4.
It seemed as though the Central region’s top-ranked team was on its way to the title when the Gusties broke serve and suddenly held a 5-3 lead in the second set. Gustavus then held match point, but the Lord Jeffs fought back to hold serve and cut their deficit to 5-4. Amherst then picked a good time for its first break of the day, as a huge return from Chafetz capped off the 10th game and tied the score at 5-5.
After holding serve to take a 6-5 lead, the Lord Jeffs completed their second-set comeback by breaking the Gusties for the second time in as many attempts. Rattenhuber picked up the deciding point on a powerful return down the line, giving Amherst a 7-5 win and sending the match into a third set.
The Jeffs carried their momentum into the third set and jumped ahead for a commanding 3-0 lead, holding a pair of serves and breaking the Gusties for the third consecutive time. Donkena and Smith-Dennis chopped their deficit to 3-2, but Amherst pushed right back for a 5-2 lead after winning four consecutive points during a dominant seventh game.
Amherst led 40-0 in the following game, but Gustavus saved three match points and came all the way back to make it a 5-3 set. The Gusties would fight off another match point after falling into a 40-15 hole, but Chafetz and Rattenhuber capped off their incredible comeback with a winning shot that split Donkena and Smith-Dennis for a 6-3 final.
It was an incredible finish for Chafetz and Rattenhuber, who posted a 10-3 record in dual match play last year before going 11-2 in 2012. The Lord Jeffs were dominant in their region, notably defeating the Northeast’s second-ranked duo by a score of 8-0 in the NCAA tournament’s third round.