By Brian Holloway, North Carolina A&T Sports Information,
ELON, NC – In the previous five seasons leading up to the 2023 men’s tennis season, the Delaware Blue Hens compiled a 67-25 record, including a 14-1 season in 2020. Over that same span, North Carolina A&T went 15-55, with 12 of those wins coming last season.
But that was then, and Thursday is now.
On Thursday at Elon’s Jimmy Powell Tennis Center, the Aggies used an exhausting, trial-by-fire No. 1 singles match to defeat Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) opponent, Delaware 4-3 to officially stake their claim as a team to contend with in the CAA.
A&T improved to 10-0 on the season, claiming its first-ever CAA win as a result. The Blue Hens, who lost earlier in the day to Elon, lost their fourth straight match to fall to 11-6 overall and 3-3 in conference play.
After Alex Martinez lost to Daniel Krulig 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 in No. 4 singles, everyone’s attention turned to No. 1 singles, where Esteban Lopez and Luis Molina were in the midst of a fierce competition to decide the winner of Thursday’s matchup.
Lopez fell behind a set after losing the first 6-3. Lopez came back to take a 3-0 lead. It was a 5-4 Lopez advantage before Molina made it a 5-4 contest. Lopez won the final game to take set No. 2 6-4. Then the fun happened.
Lopez got off to another outstanding start in the third and deciding set, taking a 4-1 lead over Molina. Molina rallied, breaking Lopez’s serve twice to take a 5-4 lead. Lopez was one point away from having his serve broken again and losing the match for himself and A&T as he trailed Molina 15-40.
Lopez said A&T head coach Dejon Bivens told him to trust his best shot, his forehand. Lopez listened and saved match point four times with forehand shots before saving his serve and winning the game to tie the set at 5. Down 6-5, Lopez once again saved match point to force a third-set tiebreaker that he won to complete the third-set victory 7-6.
“It was a great experience,” Lopez said. “I was the hope of my team to win this crazy match, this outstanding match. The team put all of their energy into my court. It felt great because you get nervous when you’re playing in a match like that. But when it’s over, you feel great because your work yielded results.”
A&T lost the doubles point by losing the No. 1 and No. 2 doubles matches, which halted the No. 3 doubles match with Delaware’s William Wibmer and Krulig leading Ian Pedersen and Mathieu Dussaubat 4-3.
Things got dimmer for A&T when Pedersen lost at No. 5 singles to Udayan Bhakar 6-2, 6-1. Pedersen lost for the first time since losing at Duke on April 3, 2022, as his 11-match winning streak ended on Thursday, dropping him to 9-1 on the season. But Dussaubat put the Aggies on the board with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Alexandre Gluck at No. 6 singles.
“It was probably my best match in terms of focus, attitude and taking my opportunities,” said Dussaubat. I tried to go to the net and control the point with my forehand.”
Eder Blanco helped the Aggies even the match at 2-2 with a 6-4, 6-2 win over James Wilkinson at No. 2 singles. Blanco turned up the volume in the first set as he clung to a 5-4 lead. Blanco claims he heard Wilkinson say he would win the match, which motivated Blanco for the remainder of the match.
A&T’s all-time leader in wins, Vasil Ivanov, won his seventh straight singles match by beating Wibmer 6-3, 7-6. Ivanov improved to 8-1 on the season and 41-26 (.612) for his career as the Aggies took a 3-2 lead. Ivanov’s win led to the two three-setters that decided the match, including Lopez’s win.
“I’m super happy for Esteban because being up 4-1 and the opponent turns it to 4-5 is tough,” Dussaubat said. “But he maintained his composure, played to win, and left all his heart and energy on the court. So yes, I’m proud of him. We got to keep pushing and keep doing what we’re doing.”
A&T’s next push will come on Saturday, April 1, when archrival North Carolina Central comes to the east side of Greensboro to face the Aggies at the Dudley High School Tennis Courts at 2 p.m.