ATHENS, Ga. – Under the lights in Athens Friday night, the Buckeyes had the right guy on their side. Redshirt junior Kevin Metka rallied to force a third set tiebreaker and went on to win a thrilling 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(8) match despite facing two match points to clinch the Ohio State men’s tennis team’s dramatic 4-3 NCAA Round of 16 victory over No. 14 Florida at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. With the win, the No. 3 seed Buckeyes (33-3) advance to the elite eight and will face No. 6 seed UCLA at 4 pm. Sunday.
With the score knotted at 3-3, and Metka down 4-1 in the final set, the native of Worthington, Ohio, fought his way back against a resilient Mike Alford on court No. 6 to force a tiebreaker.
Call it ‘May Madness’, it’s all about surviving and advancing. Except in college tennis, there’s no passing of the racket when the pressure comes down to a final court. What happened next was even hard for head coach Ty Tucker to watch.
“Who wasn’t tight tonight watching that match?” said Tucker. “Sometimes I’m watching the point, sometimes I’m not. We had the guy on the table that we wanted for the last match. Coach Shelton has done an unbelievable job for Florida and has his guys fighting hard. It was tough. I don't know if we deserved to win. We were lucky to come through because we squandered a couple opportunities (early in the match). We lost five of seven guys that were major contributors to a Final Four team a year ago. In 18 years of coaching, I’ve never been more proud of a group of guys. They all love to play tennis.”
The 2014 second team All-Big Ten selection, Metka twice battled back down match point with the Buckeyes’ season on the line. He sent a left-handed backhand volley just over the net to tie it at 6-6 and then again at 7-7 following a second-serve forehand winner. After Alford tied it at 8-all, Metka struck a return against Alford’s serve to go ahead, 9-8, before serving for match point and winning, 10-8.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Metka said. “He [Alford] did a great job of returning my serve tonight. I had a good first set and the second set he broke me early. I was able to bring it back to 4-all in the final set. In the tiebreaker, I thought I hit a really good backhand return at 8-all and it stayed in. It’s the best match I’ve ever won.”
With the victory, the Buckeyes have advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals for nine-consecutive years under Tucker, who improves to 39-14 all-time at the national tournament.
“He [Metka] misses a first serve, he says ‘Go Bucks’, he makes an error, he says ‘Go Bucks’, he wins a point he says, ‘Go Bucks,” Tucker said. “The guy loves to play tennis. He puts his heart and soul into it and never gets down on himself and keeps fighting.”
In doubles, Ohio State got off to a quick start getting early breaks on both courts 1 and 2, respectively. On court No. 2, Metka brought the energy paired with Herkko Pollanen and the Buckeye duo jumped out a 4-1 advantage earning two break points and never looked back. Metka claimed the final point on a quick left-handed volley for the first win of the evening. The OSU pair defeated Maxx Lipman and Elliott Orkin, 8-3. On No. 1, Peter Kobelt’s big serve combined with Ralf Steinbach at the net led to an 8-3 victory over No. 20 Florent Diep and Gordon Watson. Steinbach clinched the doubles point with a strong first serve down the near sideline to put the Buckeyes ahead, 1-0.
In singles, the Gators and Buckeyes each claimed three first sets setting up an exciting finish on the second day of the 2014 NCAA Championships.
In singles, the scoring started to add up quickly after about an hour and a half of competition. Hunter Callahan was the first to finish when he defeated No. 98 Orkin in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5. The redshirt junior leads the team with 34 overall victories in 2014. Just moments later, Steinbach battled but fell to Lipman on court No. 3 6-4, 7-6 (5), to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 2-1. The Gators then continued their momentum with back-to-back victories on court Nos. 4 and 2, respectively. Chris Diaz fell in straight sets 6-2, 6-2, against Diego Hidalgo while No. 109 Pollanen dropped a 7-5, 6-2 match to No. 108 Watson.
Trailing 3-2, the Buckeyes relied on two of their leaders in Kobelt and Metka to claim wins. No. 11 Kobelt held strong on serve and defeated No. 51 Diep after a second-set tiebreaker, 6-4, 7-6 (3), to set up Metka for the memorable NCAA victory for the Scarlet and Gray.
2014 NCAA Championships
NCAA Round of 16 Results
Friday, May, 16 2014
No. 3 Ohio State 4, No. 14 Florida 3
1. No. 11 Peter Kobelt (OSU) def. No. 51 Florent Diep (UF), 6-4, 7-6(3)
2. No. 108 Gordon Watson (UF) def. No. 109 Herkko Pollanen (OSU), 7-5, 6-2
3. Maxx Lipman (UF) def. No. 101 Ralf Steinbach (OSU), 6-4, 7-6(5)
4. Diego Hidalgo (UF) def. Chris Diaz (OSU), 6-2, 6-2
5. Hunter Callahan (OSU) def. No. 98 Elliott Orkin (UF), 6-2, 7-5
6. Kevin Metka (OSU) def. Mike Alford (UF), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(8)
1. No. 24 Peter Kobelt/Ralf Steinbach (OSU) def. No. 20 Florent Diep/Gordon Watson (UF) – 8-3
2. Kevin Metka/Herkko Pollanen (OSU) def. Maxx Lipmann/Elliot Orkin (UF) – 8-4
3. Chris Diaz/Hunter Callahan (OSU) vs. Diego Hidalgo/Mike Alford UF – 7-6, unfinished