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MSU men's tennis set to face FSU in NCAA opener

 

David Miller

 

STARKVILLE -- The Florida State men''s tennis team has lost three of its last four matches and finished the season with a losing record overall and in conference play.  

 

Needless to say, FSU isn''t in ideal form entering its first-round NCAA tournament match against No. 22 Mississippi State at 9 a.m. Friday in Atlanta. 

 

So the Bulldogs have an easy assignment, right? 

 

As much as MSU''s players -- and coach Per Nilsson -- have admitted to relishing a rematch against expected second-round opponent and host team Georgia Tech, which plays Middle Tennessee in its opening-round match, any tournament opponent, even one apparently struggling like Florida State, presents a challenge. 

 

"They''re a lot better than their ranking," Nilsson said. "We''ve seen their results and they can play with anyone; it''s probably gonna be one of the better first-round matches.  

 

"They lost 4-3 against Florida, who is top 10, Texas who is top 10, and a couple of other ones. That shows you they can play, but then you look at their ranking -- it''s all about winning and losing. You don''t get extra points for losing 4-3." 

 

MSU knows what it''s like to come out on the wrong end of 4-3 decisions, having lost five matches to top 10 opponents by that score. One or two more top 10 wins could have helped the Bulldogs earn a chance to play host to an NCAA regional.  

 

In singles, Nilsson admits his team doesn''t have a true No. 1 "horse" like most teams. He thinks it can be an advantage and a disadvantage from a leadership standpoint. But having "five horses" who are really good two and three players has worked for the Bulldogs.  

 

Conversely, FSU has struggled with a 17-29 record at the No. 5 and No. 6 spots.  

 

MSU will match up with Zach White and No. 83 Louis Cant, who have gone a combined 24-10 in the No. 5 and No. 6 slots this season. 

 

Teams had to have their lineup turned in before the tournament draws were announced, so Nilsson had to go with a lineup he thought would be effective against FSU and against Georgia Tech, should the Bulldogs advance to the second round, which will be Saturday. 

 

Nilsson looked back to MSU''s landmark win this season -- a 6-1 victory against No. 4 Tennessee on April 1 -- for some inspiration. 

 

No. 63 Artem Ilyushin will play No. 1 singles, while No. 50 George Coupland will play No. 2. They have alternated singles spots for most of the season, and will play together as one of MSU''s three doubles teams. 

 

"It doesn''t really matter because it comes down to playing," Nilsson said. "We have some matchups against Florida State that look good, and we have some that look a little harder. But if we could have switched it, the next day it wouldn''t look so well." 

 

MSU Achilles'' heel has been its doubles play. The Bulldogs lost all three doubles matches and the all important point against the University of Florida in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament. 

 

Prior to the SEC tournament, MSU won four of its previous five doubles points.  

 

"We always feel there''s something we need to work on after the match," Coupland said. "In the case of Florida, it was the doubles we needed to work on. That''s been the theme for us the whole season, and we''ve been continuously working on that.  

 

"I don''t think there''s an issue; each match we''ve played we''ve managed to get three singles wins." 

 

Nilsson feels MSU has the players to compete with anyone in the country, including in doubles where the team is 28-28 in dual play. 

 

"The problem is I don''t know when it''s coming," Nilsson said. "(The players) are the same way. They know they can beat anyone in doubles. We''re just not consistent."

 

 

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