Senior Sheeva Parbhu.

No. 5 Irish Men's Tennis Drops, 4-3, Heartbreaker To No. 12 USC In NCAA Tournament Round of 16

May 17, 2007

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ATHENS, Ga. – USC freshman Gary Sacks rallied from a 4-2 deficit in the third set of the deciding match against Notre Dame senior Ryan Keckley, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-4, to help the No. 12 seed Trojans slip past the No. 5 seed Irish, 4-3, in round of 16 action from the 2007 NCAA Men’s Tennis Tournament. Notre Dame closes the season with a 26-4 record, while USC improves to 23-2. The Trojans move into the quarterfinals to face the fourth-seeded Virginia Cavaliers.

With the match square, 3-3, Keckley (South Bend, IN) held serve to grab a 3-2 lead in the last remaining match. He then followed with an impressive break of Sacks and served for a 5-2 advantage, but Sacks quickly broke back. With Keckley still leading 4-3, Sacks opened the game with a double-fault, but used a massive forehand, consecutive aces and when Keckley’s volley went into the net, the match was level again, 4-4.

Sacks rode the momentum of his huge first serve and broke to take a 5-4 lead before holding serve to take the third and final set, 6-4. He improves to 22-9 and 16-3 , while Keckley drops to 23-7 and 16-5.

Keckley actually served for the first set, leading 5-4, but Sacks broke to even the set, 5-5. After each player held serve, the two tussled in a tie-breaker. Sacks came away with a 7-3 triumph in the first-set tie-breaker. Keckley answered back with a 7-5 victory in the second set setting up the climactic third set.

The Irish actually trailed, 3-1, with three matches still in doubt, but sophomore Brett Helgeson (Overland Park, KS) and junior #59 Sheeva Parbhu (Omaha, NE) eaked out a pair of three-set wins at No. 2 and No. 3. Helgeson raced out to a 6-3 victory in the first set and led 2-1 in the second set, before #63 Kaes Van’t Hof caught fire and took the final five games to win the second set, 6-2. Helgeson would not be denied and took the final set, 6-3, to bring Notre Dame within a point, 3-2. Helgeson now stands 31-7 overall and 23-4 in dual matches, while Van’t Hof drops to 30-6 and 19-2.

Parbhu dropped his opening set, 7-5, only to answer with a 7-5 victory of his own in the second set. With the match, 3-3, in the third set, Parbhu held serve to take a 4-3 lead. He then followed with a service break and once again held serve to secure a 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 victory over #52 Dejan Cvetkovic at No. 2. Parbhu improves to 29-11 overall and 19-5 in dual action, while Cvetkovic drops to 18-13 and 10-10.

After Notre Dame took the doubles point, Jason McNaughton of USC quickly evened the match, 1-1, with his straight-set victory over junior Andrew Roth (Houston, TX) at No. 6 singles, 6-4, 6-1. The loss snaps Roth’s eight-match winning streak. He falls to 26-12 overall and 18-7 in dual action. McNaughton, on the other hand, improves to 34-7 and 22-2.

The Trojans took a 2-1 lead following Robert Farah’s straight-set victory over senior Barry King (Dublin, Ireland). Farah cruised in the opening set, 6-3, but King grabbed a 3-1 lead early in the second set. Farah rallied back and eventually sent the game into a tie-breaker. Farah grabbed a 4-2 lead in the breaker and held on for a 7-4 victory to secure the point. King closes the season at 33-8 overall and 22-4 in dual action. King ends his Notre Dame career with a record of 90-37. His 90 victories rank 12th best in Irish career history.

USC pushed the lead to 3-1 following the battle between senior #8 Stephen Bass and #36 Jamil Al-Agba at No. 1. Clearly suffering from a right ankle injury suffered in doubles play, Bass found himself down 5-3 in the opening set. He broke Al-Agba before holding serve to square the first set at 5-5. Bass broke Al-Agba for the second straight service game to grab a 6-5 lead. Serving for the first set, Al-Agba broke right back to even the set, 6-6, setting up a tie-breaker.

Al-Agba quickly grabbed a 6-2 lead in the tie-breaker, but Bass battled. He managed to even score, 6-6, before breaking to take a 7-6 lead and served for the set, but Al-Agba broke to make it 7-7. Bass, again, had set point after pushing the score to 8-7, but was broke for the second time when serving for the set. After Al-Agba took an 9-8 advantage, Bass returned the favor and broke with the set on the line tying the score, 9-9. Bass’ attempt for an overhand sailed just wide, giving Al-Agba a 10-9 lead, before the Trojan sealed the set with a powerful backhand past Bass.

The second set was not as dramatic as Al-Agba took control midway through the set. Trailing 3-2, Bass was broke to fall behind 4-2 and Al-Agba held serve to make it 5-2 before breaking again to seal the point for USC. With the 7-6 (9), 6-2, victory, Al-Agba improves to 20-9 overall and 14-7 in dual matches. Bass drops to 35-10 and 24-4. The loss snaps Bass’ winning streak at eight matches.

In an emotional and action-packed bout of doubles matches, Notre Dame was able to come away with the well-deserved doubles point.

After Notre Dame and USC split the opening two doubles matches, the point came down to a classic confrontation at No. 1. Bass and Keckley, ranked No. 28, for the Irish and 43rd-ranked Farah and Hof of USC. The two heavyweights traded blows as th match stayed on serve until 8-8 setting up a tie-breaker to decide the all-important doubles point.

Despite an injury to Bass in the match, the Irish tandem dominated in the tie-breaker winning 7-3. With the victory, Bass and Keckley improve to 9-0 overall and 9-0 in dual action.

The Irish did not get off to the kind of start they had hoped. Notre Dame’s No. 2 doubles tandem of Helgeson and Parbhu lost to the USC duo of Dejan Cvetkovic and Gary Sacks, 8-2. Helgeson and Parbhu drop to 2-3 on the season and 2-3 in dual matches. Meanwhile, Cvetkovic and Sacks improve to 12-2 overall and 12-1 in dual action, including 8-0 at No. 2 doubles.

Having lost the initial doubles match, the undefeated No. 3 Notre Dame duo of King and Roth faced off against USC’s undefeated No. 3 team of Al-Agba and Garrett Snyder. Ironically, each team entered with identical 9-0 records.

King and Roth were able to even doubles play at one match apiece with their victory at No. 3. King and Roth broke Al-Agba and Snyder in the opening game of the match and then held serve to take a 2-0 lead. The Irish and Trojans each remained on serve the rest of the match as King and Roth registered an 8-6 victory. The duo, who remain unbeaten since joining one another as a team, improved to 10-0 overall and 9-0 in dual matches. Al-Agba and Snyder drop to 9-1 and 9-1.

While Notre Dame’s team portion of the season ends, Bass, Parbhu and Keckley will compete in next week’s individual portion of the NCAA Championships. Bass and Parbhu will each participate in the singles draw, while Parbhu and Keckley will play doubles.

#12 USC 4, #5 Notre Dame 3
1. Jamil Al-Agba (USC) def. Stephen Bass (ND) 7-6 (11-9), 6-2
2. Sheeva Parbhu (ND) def. Dejan Cvetkovic (USC) 5-7, 7-5, 6-3
3. Brett Helgeson (ND) def. Kaes Van’t Hof (USC) 6-3, 2-6, 6-3
4. Robert Farah (USC) def. Barry King (ND) 6-3, 7-6
5. Gary Sacks (USC) def. Ryan Keckley (ND) 7-6, 5-7, 6-4
6. Jason McNaughton (USC) def. Andrew Roth (ND) 6-4, 6-1

1. Bass/Keckley (ND) def. Farah/Van’t Hof (USC) 9-8 (7-3)
2. Cvetkovic/Sacks (USC) def. Helgeson/Parbhu (ND) 8-2
3. King/Roth (ND) def. Al-Agba/Garrett Snyder (USC) 8-6

Match Notes:
Southern Cal 23-2; National ranking #12
Notre Dame 26-4; National ranking #5
Order of finish: Doubles (2,3,1); Singles (6,4,1,3,2,5)
NCAA Round of 16
Number 5 clinched match

— ND —