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Lobos Inch Closer to Title with Comeback Win Over Utah State 4-2

by Frank Mercogliano

LOGAN, Utah — After a thrilling win over unbeaten and ranked Boise State that put UNM in the driver’s seat to a league regular season title, a slow start against Utah State, a team UNM beat earlier this year, was almost forgiveable.

Especially because it didn’t last.  UNM lost the doubles point and fell behind in three of six singles matches before turning it around for a wild come-from-behind 4-2 win that put the Lobos within a win of a third regular season title in four seasons.  UNM will now have a chance to clinch at least a share of that title on Thursday at home as UNM hosts San Diego State at McKinnon Family Tennis Stadium.  Admission is free.

UNM lost the doubles point, and rather decisively as the Aggies (9-12, 2-3 MW) took Nos. 2 and 3 doubles, each at 6-3 to sweep to point.  It seemingly went from bad to worse.  Needing four singles wins, UNM dropped the opening set in three of the six singles matches.  The two non-issues were Arda Azkara at No. 1 and Aram Noroozian at No. 3 singles.  Both won their matches in straight sets, and both in dominating fashion.  Azkara, making a bid for Mountain West Player of the Year, improved to 4-0 in the league with a 6-1, 6-2 win over David Cierny.

Noroozian also moved to 4-0 in the league, winning 6-0, 6-2 at No. 3 singles over Roko Savin, giving UNM a 2-1 lead.  The issues were fraught elsewhere.  While Nikolay Sysoev won his opening set 6-1, no one else did.  Rafael Abdulsalam eventually lost 6-2, 7-5 to Bodin Zarkovic at No. 2 singles, tying the match up.  At N0. 4, Ryo Matsushita lost his first set 6-4, and Georgio Samaha, the team-leader in wins, was blitzed 6-1 by Nuno Pinheiro.

However, after a 4-3 loss last year to Utah State crushed any hopes of a regular season title, that wasn’t about to happen this time as UNM battled back on the Aggies’ Senior Day.  While Sysoev gavbe his opening set back at 6-0 in the second, Samaha transformed into the Georgio Samaha Lobo fans have seen all season.  Samaha dominated the final two sets, getting three breaks of serve in the second set to win that 6-1, and then taking three of the final four games to win 6-4 and make it 3-2 UNM.  Matsushita stayed alive with a 6-2 win to move his match to a third set, and suddenly UNM just needed one more set to clinch the win.

Fittingly, it was Sysoev, who has now clinched three straight wins.  Tied at 2-2, he held serve and then got a service break to go up 4-2.  He against served for 5-2, and sitting at break point, he blistered a forehard that Pinheiro could do mothing with, and just like that, UNM was one win away.

NOTES: UNM can tie for at least a share of the title on Thursday, but if UNLV beats Air Force Thursday, Saturday’s match will be for the No. 1 seed in the Mountain West Tournament, a seed that gets the only bye into the semifinals … Noroozian won his career-best 20th singles match of the season, and he has won 14 of his last 16 … Sysoev is a three-time Mountain West Freshman of the Week.