STRYHAS AND HARBATSIUK UPSET NO. 3 SEED TANDEM FROM LSU IN FIRST ROUND OF NCAA DOUBLES CHAMPIONSHIP
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Making Sacramento State’s first-ever appearance at the NCAA Men’s Tennis Doubles Championship, junior Anton Stryhas and sophomore Kiryl Harbatsiuk upset No. 3 seed Neal Skupski and Michael Venus of LSU in the first round of the tournament, 7-6 (9), 7-6 (5).
No Sacramento State doubles team (men or women) had ever reached the Big Dance, and Stryhas and Harbatsiuk did not disappoint in the program’s first appearance. In fact, Skupski and Venus are currently ranked second in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) and had won seven straight matches entering the tournament. Conversely, Stryhas and Harbatsiuk were ranked 58th by the ITA, and received an at-large berth into the tournament.
Stryhas and Harbatsiuk, who are both from Minsk, Belarus, will now take on North Carolina’s Clay Donato and Taylor Fogleman (ranked 17th in the nation) in tomorrow’s second round match at a time to be determined. Tournament host Texas A&M is offering free stats and video of every tournament match by clicking here.
The match was not short on suspense as Skupski/Venus were able to jump out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first set. However, Stryhas/Harbatsiuk claimed the next two games to get back in the match and eventually force the first-set tiebreaker. Sacramento State found itself down, 6-3, in the tiebreaker before not only saving three set points, but winning four consecutive points to take a 7-6 lead.
Both teams then exchanged points before LSU finally took a 9-8 lead. At that point, one of the biggest sequences of the match for Sacramento State took place as Stryhas strung together two consecutive aces, and an unforced LSU error gave the Hornets an 11-9 tiebreak victory. In all, the Hornets saved five set points before pulling out the win.
Both teams stayed on serve the entire second set, as Harbatsiuk was dominant with his serve. In fact, the sophomore tallied seven aces in the second set, including three during the fifth game to put the Hornets up, 3-2, and three more in the ninth game to help the Hornets claim a 5-4 lead.
Harbatsiuk then began the tiebreaker with an ace to get the Hornets out to a 1-0 lead. LSU responded by winning the next two points before the Hornets strung together four consecutive points to claim a commanding 5-2 lead. Skupski/Venus eventually saved a match point and cut the lead to 6-5 before a leaping Stryhas backhand volley ended the game and match.
"We played pretty well, were aggressive on the return and had a pretty good serve," Stryhas said. "We were pretty nervous, but being an underdog, you’re always more pumped and ready to win. I think it's harder for the ranked teams to play (these types of matches). We had an advantage, not tennis wise, but mentally wise.”
Harbatsiuk and Stryhas, who play at the Nos. 1 and 3 spots, respectively, in the Hornets’ singles’ lineup, were pivotal in helping lead the Hornets to a Big Sky Conference championship, a 19-7 overall record and an appearance in the NCAA Team Championship. The tandem is now 16-7 in doubles play this season.