Karim Benmansour calmly walked over to Uli Kiendl, shook his hand and thanked him after the Bulls’ match against Florida Wednesday. Although USF lost 4-3, Benmansour pulled out a three-set victory, no thanks to his teammate.
With the match against the No. 9 Gators hanging in the balance, Kiendl lost his cool. Janne Holmia held firm in the third set, taking the No. 1 singles’ point and clinching the match for Florida (8-3) with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 victory. Kiendl incorrectly ruled the last ball of the match was out when it wasn’t. Because Kiendl had already been overruled twice, he should have been penalized a game point. With his match concluded, officials transferred the point over to Benmansour’s opponent, Ryan Sherry, tying the third set of their No. 5 singles match at 5.
“I think (the umpire) handled it wrong,” USF coach Don Barr said. “He wasn’t sure when he was making the call.”
What could have unraveled Benmansour turned into motivation. The senior squandered a 5-2 advantage in the third set, as Kiendl’s penalty knotted the set. Benmansour regained his focus to hold serve, then broke Sherry to claim the match, 6-3, 5-7, 7-5.
“Unfortunately, it was a game point, but it could have been a lot worse,” Barr said. “(Sherry) was serving, so Karim was fortunate (Sherry) won his serve and then it went back to Karim.”
Coming up achingly short to Florida isn’t new for the Bulls (6-3). Two years ago, USF dropped a 4-3 decision to the Gators during the regular season and suffered the same fate in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That match also hinged on the top single’s match, as USF’s Martin Wetzel fell in three sets after winning the first and leading 3-1 in the second.
This time around, Barr said the better team didn’t win.
“They were feeling the pressure against us,” Barr said. “Talent-wise, we’re just as strong. They play in the tough SEC, and they’re a little stronger mentally. But, by the end of the season if we play again, it will be a different story after we have a few more matches like this.
“We just need the confidence to know we can do it. My son couldn’t beat me for years, even though he was a better player. Once you get that first big win, the rest will fall into place.”