The TCU men’s tennis team was one step away from making history.
To be more specific, one point.
The Horned Frogs (25-8) saw their season end 4-3 to top-seeded Oklahoma (30-2) at the NCAA Final Four in Waco on Monday after three doubles matches that went to tiebreaker and a singles session that ended in a second-set tiebreaker with only one match remaining on the six courts.
“We just ran out of shots there at the end. We were just so close,” TCU coach David Roditi said.
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“I could say we were one point away.”
Senior Nick Chappell, down a double break in the second set of his match against top-ranked Axel Alvarez, saved two match points to force a tiebreaker. He dropped the first set of the match 7-5.
Just before tiebreaker began, TCU freshman Guillermo Nuñez defeated No. 7 Andrew Harris 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-0 and OU’s Florin Bragusi beat Will Stein 6-3, 7-6 (4) to tie the overall score at 3-3.
Alvarez jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the first to seven, win by two tiebreakers, but a couple of well-placed shots by Chappell and a few errors by Alvarez tied the score at 4-4.
With all eyes on Riverside Court 1 at Hurd Tennis Center, the only court still in play, confusion broke out when Chappell believed his shot landed in and no one was sure what Alvarez’s call was.
“The other point before, we felt like Axel might have called it in first and there was a confusion whether he called it in first and then changed his call or not,” Roditi said. “The referee didn’t see him call it in.”
Roditi said his view of Alvarez was obstructed during the play and he dismissed it as not having much of an affect on the final outcome, but did close the case with a brief plea.
“I hope, I hope that Axel called that out to begin with,” he said.
One more point would go to debate between TCU and the referee, which was ruled in Alvarez’s favor, before the match was closed out by a Chappell volley into the net.
Oklahoma put itself in prime position for the win by taking a barn-burning doubles point in which all three courts where simultaneously in a tie-breaking set, a situation Oklahoma head coach John Roddick, brother to tennis pro Andy Roddick, said he had yet to see.
“I was trying to remember even during the match if I’d ever seen that or been a part of it,” Roddick said. “I’m sure it’s happened, but I don’t think I’ve been a part of it, especially in a national semifinal match. It’s pretty incredible.”
Both of TCU’s pairings on Court 1 and 2 could have taken their match by breaking serve, up 7-6, but both Sooners teams held serve, sending the matches to the tiebreaker.
Oklahoma’s first-court team of Andrew Harris and Alex Ghilea wrapped up their match first, beating TCU’s Cameron Norrie and Trevor Johnson 8-7 (6).
Next, the Horned Frogs’ pairing of Chappell and senior Facundo Lugones won their third straight match of the championship, defeating Dane Webb and Spencer Papa 8-7 (7)
TCU’s third-court team of Nuñez and Hudson Blake fought back into the match, forcing a tiebreaker, but lost steam in the final game, giving Oklahoma the doubles point with the 8-7 (5) loss.
TCU entered the championship 2-5 against Top 25 teams after losing the initial doubles point.
This TCU squad had aspirations of becoming the first in program history to make it past the Final Four and winning its first national championship, Chappell said.
Once they return to Fort Worth, their team picture will hang with the three other TCU squads to journey to the national semifinals.
With how far the program has journeyed in the past four years, missing the NCAA tournament in these seniors’ freshman and junior years, a Final Four finish is victory enough for Roditi’s first recruiting class.
“I told coach we were going to get back to where it was 20 years ago,” Lugones said. “After three years, we didn’t think we were going to make it. It looked really tough. This year we were able to put it together and I was glad to get this program to the Final Four and we took it back to where it was.”