Photo courtesy of MT Athletics
Three match points loomed large for true freshman Stijn Slump. If all three weren’t saved, the season would be over in disappointment for the MTSU men’s tennis team. Digging deep, Slump fought every point off, with a point-perfect forehand down the left line at deuce to force a deciding tiebreak.
“I think I might have pulled a neck muscle or something, I went full body flex. I was pretty pumped for that shot,” said Blue Raider head coach Jimmy Borendame.
Slump’s 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) win on Court 2 was the deciding point in MTSU’s 4-3 C-USA Championship quarterfinal win on Sunday over six-seeded UTSA and the first win of three in the Blue Raiders run to the title in Murfreesboro.
The Blue Raiders flexed their strength early with a dominant doubles point win with the nationally ranked Tom Moonen/Chris Edge pairing winning 6-1 and Gonzalo Morell/Pavel Motl finishing just ahead of the No. 2 doubles 6-2.
“Doubles were really routine. Guys were in cruise control.” Borendame said.
The momentum from the strong doubles point carried over to the start of singles play as Edge and Motl quickly hopped out to first set wins. But with tight matches on other courts, the Roadrunners would not run out of Murfreesboro without a fight.
“I had to get on a few guys and a couple got a little nervous. (Motl) got a little nervous, (Rauch) had a few chances,” Borendame said.
Momentum swung massively to UTSA as the Roadrunners won in straights against Tom Moonen and Max Rauch to knot the score at two apiece.
Gonzalo Morell restored the lead in a tight victory on Court 1, rallying to win the first set despite four break points when serving for the set. Morell cleaned up the second set 6-3 to put MTSU at match point overall 3-2.
With Motl being on the wrong end of a comeback on Court 6, the overall score was knotted at three all.
Slump, who lost the first set 1-6 before winning the second 6-3, was down a break 2-4 with all eyes on him.
“I was making so many mistakes. In the second set, I felt like I picked it up and got the momentum going,” Slump said.
Slump fought back to get back on serve but faced three match points against him at 5-6. What happened next will be remembered fondly in the history of the season.
“It was the second serve, I played the rally and he came in on the approach and I don’t even know how but I hit a crazy forehand down the line which somehow went in,” Slump said.
Slump fended off his opponent to win the tiebreaker 7-5 and was instantly swarmed by his teammates while UTSA could only console each other with the heartbreak of losing a razor-thin match.
“He’s got so many tools in his toolbox, (Slump) just sometimes doesn’t know which one to use. When (Slump) (uses the right one) he’s so dangerous.” Borendame said.
With little time off, MT faced Old Dominion, a team heavily thought of as being able to win the tournament and a big favorite over the Raiders.
It was Slump again who played the hero, as MTSU upset ODU 4-1 in a shockingly easier fashion than their win the day prior.
The one-seeded Florida Atlantic, the team that ended the Blue Raiders season in 2018, would be the final obstacle to an inaugural conference championship in Conference USA.
Doubles favored MTSU again, as Morell/Motl and Rauch/Rocha blitzed the Owls two and three duos for a quick 1-0 lead.
The nerves started to come for all clad in blue at the Adams Tennis Complex.
“I started to feel lightheaded after the doubles point,” Borendame said.
FAU quickly gained a stranglehold on singles firing off three straight singles wins in straight sets to be on overall match point 3-1.
But after Max Rauch and Tom Moonen clutched out their matches, a swarm of Blue Raider fans hurried down to Court 6 for Pavel Motl serving at 6-5 in the third set and for the championship.
“I just wanted it to be over, I was almost cramping,” Motl said.
With multiple championship points, Motl finally put the match away when an FAU return went high into the air and out of play leading to a massive dogpile on the exhausted Motl.
For MTSU, it is their first conference title since 2012 when the Blue Raiders clinched the Sun Belt men’s tennis title.
The team now awaits its opponent in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since its previous automatic bid in 2012.
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