For the 10th time in program history and the 3rd time in the past five seasons, the TCU Horned Frogs men’s tennis team is heading to the Elite Eight. The Frogs, the No. 10 national seed in the nation, advanced by taking down the No. 7 national seed Mississippi State Bulldogs on the road in Starkville. The match had everything that one would expect to find in a Super Regional matchup - a lively crowd of Mississippi State and TCU fans, incredible ranked matchups on the individual courts, and back-and-forth action that kept fans guessing who would be ultimately victorious.
Action got started with doubles and the Frogs struck first as the freshmen duo Luc Fomba and Sander Jong rolled on Court 3 to defeat their opponents 6-2. Mississippi State would draw even on Court 2 though as the Bulldogs pair of Niclas Braun and Giovanni Oradini, the No. 32 ranked doubles tandem in the nation, took down TCU’s pair of sophomore Bertus Kruger and senior Reese Stalder, the No. 22 duo in the nation, 6-3.
The doubles point was then left to the matchup on Court 1, where TCU’s top doubles pair - senior Alex Rybakov and junior Alastair Gray - who are ranked No. 15 in the nation, faced the Bulldogs’ Nuno Borges and Strahinja Rakic, who are ranked the No. 3 doubles team in the country. Ultimately though, it would be the Frogs’ point to win as Rybakov and Gray cruised to a 6-3 victory, despite trailing 1-2 early in the set, and secured the doubles point for TCU.
Following doubles, singles action got underway and for a moment it seemed as if Mississippi State’s players had begun to feel a bit of momentum in their first sets. However, the momentum would all be thwarted as all players and fans had to seek shelter due to a lightning delay. Rain came in along with the storm and both teams ultimately had to sit and wait nearly three hours before action could resume.
Once action resumed, the Bulldogs struck twice quickly to take a 2-1 advantage in the match. Rybakov, the No. 4 singles player in the nation, could not knock off the No. 1 player in the nation, Borges, and was defeated 6-1, 6-4 on Court 1. The Bulldogs also secured a point on Court 3, where Stalder fell to Rakic 6-3, 6-2.
TCU would answer back though as the freshman Fomba came through on Court 5 with a 7-5, 6-3 victory to even the match at two points apiece. With three courts left to finish, it was up in the air what team would ultimately advance as all three courts advanced to decisive third sets.
In the third sets, the Frogs began to show their depth as Kruger rolled through his third set against Braun on Court 4 to win 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 and put TCU ahead 3-2 in the match. TCU looked like they would be heading for victory at the time as both remaining Frogs led 5-3 in their sets at the time. However, things would get tense as TCU’s Alastair Gray took a spill on a play by a fence in a service game to win the match for the Frogs.
Although time was called, the play was out of the camera shot and all that could be seen was the trainer tending to Gray with Head Coach David Roditi showing concern for his player. At the same moment, Mississippi State’s Florian Broska had just drawn his match with TCU’s Jong to 5-4. If Gray would be unable to finish his match, it would have been up to the freshman Jong on Court 6 to serve out his match and advance the Frogs.
That would not be necessary though as Gray returned to his match after having to receive stitches on his chin. He never left it in doubt upon his return and went on to win the game, the set, and the match for TCU, defeating Oradini 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-3.
Gray has etched his name in TCU men’s tennis history with his performance today in such an incredible moment. In order to better understand how bad his fall was, here is Roditi’s quote in the GoFrogs.com recap on it: “At the end, Alastair has a gash on his chin after he fell. There was so much blood, I thought that he might pass out. It was a hard hit against the fence, but he showed unbelievable toughness to be able to close out the match after that.”
Freshman Luc Fomba also came through big yesterday for TCU with his performance in doubles and singles, securing wins in both.
The Frogs advance to the national championships in Orlando where they will face No. 2 national seed and Big 12 foe Texas on Thursday. It will be a rematch of the Longhorns’ 6-1 victory over TCU the last time they met. The Frogs lone point came from the doubles point as Texas won all six singles matches; however, TCU did force third sets in four of the six matches. All that is irrelevant now though as it is win or go home.