Halfway through the TCU men’s tennis season, TCU dropped a match to Wake Forest 4-3 in Winston-Salem, N.C., a match the team believed it should have won.
Instead of taking off a few days for spring break following the loss, the team stayed on campus and practiced, igniting a spark that would catapult the Horned Frogs to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament and the program’s first Round of 16 berth since 2004.
Thursday, TCU (24-7) took another huge step into the NCAA quarterfinals beating the same Wake Forest team 4-0 at the Hurd Tennis Center in Waco.
“I’m just so ecstatic,” TCU coach David Roditi said. “Our guys are so hungry and they’re confident right now. When you’re confident, good things happen.”
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The victory hinged on the doubles point, which came down to the third-court pairing of freshman Guillermo Nuñez and sophomore Hudson Blake in a tie-breaking set to seven points.
The pair quickly fell down 4-1 in the deciding set with frustration visible on the young players.
Roditi jumped in to distract the players from the situation at hand.
“I was just trying to keep them positive,” Roditi said. “I was just trying to make Guillermo laugh a little bit ... and get him out of his funk.”
Blake found his service game after the pause and the tandem worked off of Nuñez’s returns to fight back into the match and take a 7-6 lead.
Nuñez’s return on the next rally set up a floating slice shot by Wake Forest (24-8) that was slammed home by Blake for the 8-7 (6) win.
“I was supposed to be going to the middle, but I aimed it right at the kid,” Blake said. “I just went up and hit it as hard as I could. I was not missing that ball.”
Both Nuñez and Blake agreed that the doubles point was the difference in the match because their top-ranked wins this season had come when securing that point.
The second-court pairing of seniors Facundo Lugones and Nick Chappell, who had not played together this season, secured TCU’s other double win 8-4.
Roditi broke up the typical pairing of Chappell and senior Will Stein, the program’s premier team for the past three years, after a slightly below par season.
Roditi said he wasn’t sure if he would keep the same lineup in TCU’s quarterfinal matchup at noon Saturday against 13 seeded North Carolina, or revert to the default.
With momentum in hand, TCU closed out the match in short order, with singles wins from Stein (6-2, 6-0), Lugones (6-3, 6-2) and Nuñez (6-3, 6-1).
Saturday will be TCU’s first Elite Eight appearance since 2001, ninth all-time, and marks a significant turn around from the seven, nail biting 4-3 losses last year that saw TCU’s season end before the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m just happy for our team to be able to experience what they are experiencing right now,” Roditi said.