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Abdulsalam, Azkara Lead Lobo Comeback at Radford

by Frank Mercogliano

RADFORD, Va. — The University of New Mexico Lobos might have been over 1,600 miles from home, but another familiar chapter in an increasingly similar story played out as the Lobos picked up their ninth win of the season, once again pulling off a late comeback to down Radford 4-3 in Virginia.  The win pushed UNM to 9-3 on the season, and it was UNM’s third road win in four tries.  Radford dropped to 6-5 on the year as UNM ended the Highlanders’ four-match winning streak and handing Radford its first home loss of the year.

The Lobos, which had lost the doubles points for six straight matches until taking it against No. 74 Radford on Tuesday in a 7-0 win, lost the opening point to the Highlanders.  Georgio Samaha and Aram Noroozian hammered their opponents Aditya Balsekar and Guilherme Severin 6-0 at No. 2 doubles to open the begining of doubles, but Rafael Abdulsalam and Ryoma Matsushita were trailing and ultimately fell 6-2 to Robert Hagen and Charles Courteau at No. 3.  The meant the point would be decided at No. 1 doubles, where it was a dogfight between UNM’s Alex Maggs and Arda Azkara and Radford’s Demis Taramonlis and Konstantinos Raptis.  Tied at 5-5, Radford took the final two games to give Radford the opening point.

However, while Maggs and Azkara couldn’t clinch that point, they each did their part in singles.  UNM built a quick lead, taking five of six opening singles matches, including a 7-6 (7-3) win by Abdulsalam, who has turned around his season with back-t0-back singles wins.  It was Maggs that was able to get UNM on the board, winning his match at No. 6 6-2, 6-4 over Courteau.

That was one of three matches that finish all within a few minutes of each other, as UNM’s Ryoma Matsushita lost 6-4, 6-3 at No. 4 to Severin, but Georgio Samaha did what he does, and that’s win.  His 6-2, 6-4 win at No. 5 was his team-leading 10th straight win, and it made it 2-2 in the match.

Aram Noroozian was going for a 10th straight win, and it started off well as he won his opening set 6-3, but he dropped the second set 6-3 to Raptis to move to a third.  Azkara, playing at No. 1, also won his first set, winning 6-1, but he too dropped the second set 6-4, moving to a third.  While both played in a third, Abdulsalam’s match was a long-drawn out affair with the opening set tiebreak, and the second set stayed even.

Noroozian lost his third set 6-1, his first singles match lost since February 17th.  That gave Radford a 3-2 lead, needing one more match to get a win.  UNM had other plans.  Abdulsalam, who won his opening set in a tiebreak 7-3, did likewise in the second set, winning his tiebreak 7-3.  That win tied the match at 3-3 and moved Rafa to 4-2 in tiebreak sets this season.

Azkara and Taramonlis went back-and-forth, and at 5-5, Azkara served out his end for a 6-5 lead.  On the changeover, he got the upper hand and broke Taramonlis as his forehand lob was perfect into the backcourt.  Taramonlis got to it but his return fell harmlessly into the net, leading to a raucous celebration for the Lobos.

UNM doesn’t get much time to enjoy the win, as the team heads to Johnson City for an 11 a.m. Eastern time match on Sunday morning as UNM looks for a perfect end to a perfect week.

NOTES:  Samaha’s win was his 19th singles win of the season, the most on the team, and one more than he won in 2021-22 … Maggs is a perfect 6-0 in the spring season … Azkara has now won five straight … Samaha and Noroozian, who became a doubles team this week, are 2-0.