No. 22 South Carolina uses singles tiebreaker to defeat No. 8 Kentucky
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina senior Harry Menzies rallied to win his third set and deliver a 4-3 win against No. 8 Kentucky for the 22nd-ranked Gamecocks Sunday afternoon at Carolina Tennis Center. The Wildcats had closed within a point of winning the team match, but Thiago Pinheiro and Kyle Koch won their matches to set up Menzies in the final regular-season match of his career.
“[These players] have proven again and again this season that they are strong individuals,” South Carolina head coach Josh Goffi said. “The guys do the right things in the right moments. They’re smart and digest the game plans. And, [Sunday] couldn’t be more storybook [for Harry Menzies]. I was glad to see Thiago [Pinheiro] get his win and then that [Kyle] Koch could get that second set to set things up for Harry.”
The match was hotly contested from the outset with the Gamecocks coming off a win against No. 13 Vanderbilt Friday while the Wildcats were trying to stop a two-match losing streak. South Carolina’s No. 2 doubles team of Koch and Menzies, ranked 84th in the nation, were the first to finish with an 8-5 win against Grant Roberts and Anthony Rossi. The Wildcats leveled things with a late break in the No. 1 match, just as Pinheiro and Andrew Adams went into a tiebreak with Ryuji Hirooka and Beck Pennington. Kentucky scored the first point, but the Gamecocks won the next six points to set up match point. The Wildcats were not ready to quit, though, holding off three match points before succumbing 9-8 (4).
Singles went Kentucky’s way early with only Menzies and Pinheiro able to get early leads in their first sets. Adam appeared to join them with a break to go up 3-1, but No. 21 Tom Jomby took it right back in the next game. Koch was down a break early, but was fighting back, while Tsvetan Mihov and Chip Cox were both trailing in their Nos. 1 and 5 matches, respectively.
While Koch broke to get back on serve at 3-4, Menzies briefly stumbled as Pennington got back one of his two breaks in the No. 6 match. The Gamecocks’ lone senior finished him off with a break to win the first set 6-3, but moments later the Wildcats went up a set on Courts 1, 2 and 5. Pinheiro withstood pressure form Charles Minc on Court 3 to win his first set 6-4, which just left Koch’s in the balance. He was in a tiebreak with Roberts, but closed it out 7-6 (1) to keep the teams even with three first sets each.
By that time, Menzies was up a break in his second set, as was Adams. Pennington finished off his rally with a 6-3 win against Menzies to force a third set. Just after No. 19 Rossi posted a 6-2, 6-2 win against Mihov, Adams had two break points on Jomby to take a 5-4 lead, but he went ahead by breaking Adams in the next game. Lai and Jomby finished in rapid succession to make it a 3-1 Kentucky lead as Cox dropped his 6-3, 6-4 decision and Adams fell 6-4, 6-4.
Those wins came just after Pinheiro had surged ahead of Minc with a break at 4-3. With Koch and Roberts on serve at 4-3, Menzies answered his teammates’ setbacks with a break for a 3-2 score. He saw Pennington fight off two break points, but stayed on top and set up a third, which he won with an overhead.
Koch saw his first match point erased by a bounce off the net on Roberts’ serve, and the two went into another tiebreak. Pennington rode the momentum of his serve to break Menzies and level the match at four just after Koch and Roberts began battling out their tiebreak. Great hands at the net set up an easy putaway for Koch to take at 5-4 lead, and Roberts’ miscue on the next point set up match point with Menzies starting to serve at 5-5 on the next court.
Roberts pushed past two more match points for Koch and earned a set point of his own with solid net work, but Menzies was now in control on Court 6. He played a great defensive point and forced Pennington into a misfire to set up two break points. On the second, Menzies delivered a passing shot to take a 6-5 lead.
The advance of his doubles partner energized Koch, who played a patient point, working Grant around the court until put away the point to pull even at eight. Another long rally saw Grant dump shot into the net for Koch’s fourth match point. Another long forehand from Pennington gave Koch the hard-fought 7-6 (8) win.
Menzies was serving for the match and up 30-15 when Koch wrapped things up. Two points later, Menzies leapt into the air as the crowd and team erupted around him in celebration of his 7-5 victory.