Ole Miss men’s tennis closed out its non-conference slate of matches with a bang on Monday, as the Rebels earned a pair of hard-fought victories over the Belmont Bruins to increase the team’s win streak to eight heading into SEC play.
Despite the Rebels (11-2, 1-0 SEC) dropping the doubles point in both of the day’s matches, the team was able to fend off a scrappy Belmont (6-5, 0-0 Horizon) side to secure 6-1 and 4-2 victories on the day.
The Rebels were put to the test early by the Bruins, with all three doubles matches of the opening match going for over 40 minutes. Despite tightly contested matches for Ole Miss, Belmont would start the day off with the doubles point after taking wins on Court 1 and Court 3.
Heading into singles, the team got off to a slow start with three Rebels dropping their first sets. Nikola Slavic, on the other hand, showed he was in complete control in No. 1 singles.
Coming off of a gritty two-set victory in the team’s match against Mississippi State on Saturday, Slavic carried his momentum into match one with the Bruins by only dropping one game to finish off his opponent 6-0, 6-1 and get the Rebels on the board. Note???
Even with a quick win from Slavic, the Rebels still needed to grind out some hard-fought wins across the remaining five courts to secure a match one victory, as the rest of the matches for singles play would progress to third sets.
Riding the high of a 6-3 second set win, John Hallquist Lithen would be the first domino to fall with Lithen sweeping through his final set 6-0 to earn a crucial match win that gave the Rebels a 2-1 lead. The win improved Lithen’s singles win streak up to six straight, marking an active team-best.
Not long after the Rebels took control with Simon Junk and Gordon Whitwell both taking third set victories to help clinch the match in favor of the Rebels. With the win, Whitwell was able to earn his first dual singles win of his career with the Rebels, beating his opponent 7-6(4), 1-6, 6-4.
“Everyone really came through in the first match just winning close sets and close matches,” Whitwell said. “It felt good to come through in a lot of tight sets for me today. I won two sets on the breaker today, I won my third set in match one 6-4, and really I just played better than my opponents in the bigger moments for both matches. That’s really what made the difference for me.”
The Rebels then completed the singles sweep with two more wins coming on Courts 4 and 5, as both Lukas Engelhardt and Isac Strömberg were able to win their third sets to complete the 6-1 comeback to take down the Bruins in match one.
Match two started much like the first match for the Rebels, as the team once again got off to a slow start in doubles. Losses in No. 2 and No. 3 doubles would once again give Belmont the doubles point to begin the match, but singles continued to go Ole Miss’ way.
John Hallquist Lithen started the team off with a dominant 6-2, 6-3 win on Court 2, drawing the Rebels back to even pegging on the scoreboard and improving his singles win streak now to seven in a row.
Another win from Engelhardt (6-4, 6-3) gave the Rebels an early advantage on the Bruins, but after a loss in No. 5 singles for Isac Strömberg the score once again returned to being even at 2-2.
The Rebels then leaned on the veteran experience of Nikola Slavic and Simon Junk to close out the day, with both seniors completing straight-set wins on Court 1 and Court 3 to secure a 4-2 victory over the Bruins, sweeping the day’s matches.
Freshman Gordon Whitwell’s second singles match would go unfinished, as the Oxford, Mississippi, native held a 7-6(5), 3-2 advantage before Junk’s match-clinching victory.
The Rebels will have another day off on Sunday to prepare for a home doubleheader and non-conference finale on Monday, March 6 against Belmont (6-2, 0-0 Horizon League). Both matches will be played at Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center, weather permitting, with match one set to begin at 10 a.m. CT and match two to follow soon after the completion of the first.
Match One: Ole Miss 6, Belmont 1
Ilic/Trione (BEL) def. Nikola Slavic/Lukas Engelhardt (OM) 6-4
John Hallquist Lithen/Simon Junk (OM) vs. Randall/Wallin (BEL) 5-6 unfinished
Luis/Cruz (BEL) def. Isac Strömberg/Walker Stearns(OM) 7-5
Order of finish: 1, 3
No. 68 Nikola Slavic (OM) def. Marko Ilic (BEL) 6-0, 6-1
John Hallquist Lithen (OM) def. Alfred Wallin (BEL) 5-7, 6-3, 6-0
Simon Junk (OM) def. Ian Cruz (BEL) 2-6, 6-4, 6-3
Lukas Engelhardt (OM) def. Riccardo Trione (BEL) 6-2, 5-7, 6-3
Isac Strömberg (OM) def. Tomas Luis (BEL) 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-3
Gordon Whitwell (OM) def. Jack Randall (BEL) 7-6(4), 1-6, 6-4
Order of finish: 1, 2, 3, 6, 4, 5
Match Two: Ole Miss 4, Belmont 2
Nikola Slavic/Lukas Engelhardt (OM) vs. Ilic/Trione (BEL) 5-2 unfinished
Randall/Wallin (BEL) def. John Hallquist Lithen/Simon Junk (OM) 6-2
Luis/Cruz (BEL) def. Isac Strömberg/Walker Stearns (OM) 6-1
Order of finish: 3, 2
No. 68 Nikola Slavic (OM) def. Alfred Wallin (BEL) 6-1, 6-4
John Hallquist Lithen (OM) def. Marko Ilic (BEL) 6-2, 6-3
Simon Junk (OM) def. Riccardo Trione (BEL) 7-6(3), 6-0
Lukas Engelhardt (OM) def. Ian Cruz (BEL) 6-4, 6-3
Tomas Luis (BEL) def. Isac Strömberg (OM) 7-6(4), 6-1
Gordon Whitwell (OM) vs. Gabriel Sardo (BEL) 7-6(5), 3-2 unfinished
Order of finish: 2, 4, 5, 1, 3
Courtesy of Ole Miss Sports