Lafayette, La.—In a nail-biting match that came down to the No. 4 and 6 singles flights, the Georgia State men’s tennis team won the Sun Belt Conference title with an epic, five-hour victory over No. 49-ranked Middle Tennessee State, 4-3, at the Sun Belt Conference Championships in Lafayette, La., on Saturday evening.
Robert Schulze clinched the come-back victory with a three-set win at No. 4 singles. The win earned Georgia State an automatic berth to the 2013 NCAA Men's Tennis Championship.
The Panthers fell behind 3-0 after dropping the doubles point and losing singles matches at the No. 2 and 5 positions. But Georgia State (14-10) mounted a comeback beginning with a straight-set victory by senior Victor Valente on the No. 1 court. Following Valente’s singles win, senior Lucas Santa Ana came back from dropping the first set to win a 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 match at the No. 3 position.
MTSU led the team score 3-2 as the match came down to two singles contests on courts No. 4 and 6. Freshman Paul Schuette took a dramatic 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (4) win at the No. 6 position, fighting off six match points while on serve and down 5-6 in the third set.
Schuette’s win set up the deciding contest for Schulze at the No. 4 singles spot. Schulze forced a third set after dropping the first set 3-6 and winning the second 6-4. The third set evened up at 4-4 before Schulze took a 5-4 lead on his serve. The match evened up at 5-5 before Schulze was broken by MTSU’s Ettore Zito to fall behind 5-6.
Schulze then fell behind 15-40 in the next game and faced two match points. From that point on, Schulze won 10 straight points, fighting off both match points, earning a break and then taking a 6-0 lead in the following tiebreaker in the process. At 6-0 in the tiebreaker, Schulze lost his first point and still remained ahead 6-1. At 6-1 Schulze fired his second serve wide from the advantage side and approached the net looking to volley the return. His forehand volley went to the left side just inside the line and deep forcing Zito to fire his forehand long and give GSU the title. Schulze’s 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-1) clinched the match for GSU.
Valente began the Georgia State comeback at the top singles position. Valente is ranked No. 89 in the ITA National Singles rankings and defeated MTSU’s Ben Davis 6-3, 6-1. It was Valente’s second victory over Davis this season and the win improved his record to 8-0 against Sun Belt Conference opponents. Valente didn’t drop a set all season to a Sun Belt Conference opponent.
Santa Ana fell behind early by dropping the first set 6-1. But he mounted a comeback that began in the second set when he got an early break and eventually won the set 6-2. He then came back in the third set and used another early break to finish off a 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over MTSU’s Christoph Lang.
Schuette took his first set by a 6-4 margin before falling in the second set 2-6. Schuette, a freshman, was down 5-6 and was serving. He fought off six match points during that game to force a third-set tiebreaker. In the tiebreaker he broke serve early to gain an advantage and eventually won the tiebreaker by a 7-4 margin.
“The team could not be more excited to win this championship in our first year in the Sun Belt Conference,” first-year head coach Joerg Barthel said. “We played tough when it mattered at the end of our season, which was our goal at the beginning of the year. I am excited that our two seniors, Victor and Lucas, get to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their careers. When it mattered, our guys stepped up and played like champions. I am so proud of how our team competed today.”
Schulze was named the Most Outstanding Performer of the Sun Belt Conference Championship. Valente and Santa Ana were both named to the All-Sun Belt Conference Championship team.
This is Georgia State's 7th men's tennis conference championship; its first since 2007 in the CAA. The Panthers won the Atlantic Sun (previously TAAC) in 2002, 2000, 1999, 1998, and 1989. For Georgia State athletics, it is its second conference title this season, following the women's cross country championship. The women's tennis team plays Sunday for the Sun Belt title.
Check the Georgia State men’s tennis page for updates on the team’s draw in the NCAA Men’s Tennis Tournament. The NCAA men’s tennis selection show will be on April 30 at 5 p.m. Visit the men’s tennis page on GeorgiaStateSports.com for updates on the draw.
Georgia State 4, #49 Middle Tennessee State 3
1. #89 Victor Valente (GSU) def. Davis, Ben (MT) 6-3, 6-1
2. Cornea, Victor (MT) def. Thomas Cook (GSU) 6-2, 6-1
3. Lucas Santa Ana (GSU) def. Lang, Christoph (MT) 1-6, 6-2, 6-2
4. Robert Schulze (GSU) def. Zito, Ettore (MT) 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-1)
5. Fox, David (MT) def. Sofiane Chevallier (GSU) 6-3, 6-2
6. Paul Schuette (GSU) def. Born, Yannick (MT) 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4)
1. #67 Davis, Ben/Cornea, Victor (MT) def. #46 Victor Valente/Lucas Santa Ana (GSU) 8-5
2. Lang, Christoph/Fox, David (MT) vs. Robert Schulze/Sofiane Chevallier (GSU) 8-8, unfinished
3. Brand, Marlon/Born, Yannick (MT) def. Thomas Cook/Paul Schuette (GSU) 8-6