Put the Memphis men’s tennis team inside and it’s a whole different story.
After cruising past the Tigers at home March 1, the Bulls had a harder time Thursday but still beat Memphis 4-2 to advance to the semifinals of the Conference USA Tournament in Milwaukee.
“It’s probably detrimental (to have played them earlier this season),” USF coach Don Barr said. “They’re an entirely different team indoors. We handled them easily outside, but they’re tough indoors. Our (freshmen) didn’t understand that.”
The Tigers and Bulls met outdoors in Tampa for the semifinals of the C-USA Shootout last month, and USF (15-6) grabbed a 5-2 victory en route to the championship in its half of the bracket.
The teams were scheduled to meet outdoors, but a cold front forced the entire tournament to be moved inside. The move suited the Tigers (14-9) just fine.
“That’s their game,” Barr said. “They’re more of a serve-and-volley team, full of Australians and South Africans. They’re very aggressive, which you need to be when you play indoors.
“We play outside. We’re baseliners. We grind out points. But you can’t grind out points inside because the points are shorter. You have to hit the ball flatter because there’s no wind to affect it.”
Seeing the weather forecasts, Barr said the team was prepared for the change of venue. However, the Bulls have only played one indoor match this season (a 7-0 loss at No. 6 Mississippi Jan. 27) and had little practice time before taking on the Tigers Thursday.
“They didn’t even have practice courts,” Barr said. “We got a 30-minute warmup last night between the two matches and a 30-minute warmup today before the match, which is not a lot of hitting.”
After breezing past DePaul 4-0 Wednesday while the Bulls had a first-round bye, Memphis gave No. 40 USF a stern test in doubles, dropping 9-7 matches at Nos. 1 and 3. The first time out against the Tigers, the Bulls swept through the three doubles matches, surrendering less than four games in each contest.
“I knew it was going to be a tough test,” Barr said. “Memphis had an easy match (Wednesday), so they got out their first-match jitters and they were well-attuned to the courts. Our freshmen struggled (Thursday). I’m not sure if nerves set in, but our senior stepped up.”
With Federico Barton and Renato Silveira going down to defeat in their first tournament matches, USF got a crucial win from senior Jorge Escallon at No. 6 singles to put USF back in front. Junior Paco Antelo rebounded from a horrendous first set to beat Tiger Ben Stapp 1-6, 6-3, 7-5, while Uli Kiendl’s 7-6, 6-3 win at the top sealed the Bulls’ advancement.
Up today for USF is No. 26 TCU (14-7) in the semifinals. The second-seeded Horned Frogs beat UAB 4-0 Thursday to earmark them for a bid in today’s first semifinal game, which starts at 9 a.m. TCU, which hosted and won the other half of the C-USA Shootout, and USF have yet to play this season.
Although the Horned Frogs are ranked higher than the Tigers (and the Bulls), Barr said he likes USF’s chances against TCU better.
“I think we pair up better with them than Memphis,” Barr said. “They’re not as much an indoor team, which I think makes us almost equal.”
Top seed Tulane, ranked 19th in the nation, should await the winner in the finals. USF triumphed 4-2 March 2 vs. the Green Wave in the final of the Shootout. The C-USA Tournament champion earns an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. However, Barr said he feels the Bulls secured a bid by beating Memphis Thursday.
“I think so with our win (Thursday),” Barr said. “We’re ranked 40th and we play a team that’s 26th, so I can’t see us dropping. Usually, the top 48 are locked in. Between 48-52 is usually the cut-off (for at-large bids), and we only play teams ranked ahead of us.
“Then again, I wasn’t too happy when we won three straight and dropped 12 places in the rankings (March 17), so nothing is a sure thing.”
Contact Anthony Gagliano at firstname.lastname@example.org