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Lobos Edged By Rice in Final Tiebreaker

by Frank Mercogliano

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s winning formula of taking four singles matches didn’t quite pan out as Rice took a final third set tiebreaker with the match even at 3-3 for a 4-3 win that took nearly four hours from start to finish.  The Owls moved to 6-7 on the year while New Mexico dropped to 7-3, all three losses by 4-3 scores.

The Lobos have won at least three singles matches in all 10 matches this year, but for the third time, not getting the doubles point betrayed them.  That went to Rice with a 2-0 advantage, and it counter-balanced singles wins by Arda Azkara, Aram Noroozian and Georgio Samaha.

Noroozian, who has won eight in a row, did it in straight sets this time while moving up a slot to No. 3 singles, winning 6-2, 6-4 over Wes Barnett.  Azkara, who has never lost at No. 1 at home in his career, kept that streak intact with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) win.  Azkara bolted to a 5-1 lead in the tiebreak to take control.  Samaha overcame a 4-2 deficit in the third set to win his eighth in a row, and his team-leading 17th on the year with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win at No. 6 singles.

Usually, the formula has been Noroozian, Samaha, Ryoma Matsushita and one other player, but Matsushita lost for only the second time in the spring, a loss that will haunt him until UNM’s next match.  Matsushita was all over the court, confounding his opponent Campbell Salmon, and Matsushita had a match point at 6-3, 5-2 40-40 which would have given UNM its third point of the match, but Ryo’s attempt at a winner went into the net, and Campbell took the next four games before Ryo held serve for a 6-6 tie.

Salmon jumped on the tiebreaker, leading 6-0 before Ryo scored a point.  Campbell won the next, and then finished off his remarkable comeback with a 6-3 win in the third set to even the match at 3-3.  That put it all at Court 2, where Rafael Abdulsalam and Trinity Grear waged a solid battle.  Abdulsalam won the opening set 6-2, and then he and Grear held serve through the first 11 games of the second before Grear broke in the 12th for a 7-5 win, moving to a third.

Once again, Grear would hold serve only for Abdulsalam to bounce back and even the set.  That happened all 12 games, moving to a tiebreaker to decide the match.  Grear aces Abdulsalam wide to open the scoring, and then he got two mini breaks when Rafa went long twice.  Down 3-0, Abdulsalam took some chances, but hit wide and long, and down 5-0, it was a tough road back.

Down 6-0, a double fault ended the match and gave the Owls the thriller in nearly four hours time.  The Lobos are now off until March 14, when they host Drake at 11 am at McKinnon.