Penn men’s tennis coach David Geatz has been coaching for 34 years, but by the end of Saturday’s match against Princeton, he could hardly watch.
He called the nearly four-and-a-half hour back-and-forth battle “one of the toughest matches to lose, ever.”
The Tigers (10-8, 1-0 Ivy) won key points at the right moments and eked out a hard fought 4-3 victory over the Quakers (8-6, 0-1).
The match was dramatic from beginning to end with several shifts in momentum.
In No. 3 doubles, Jeremy Court and Zach Katz battled back from a 4-3 deficit, winning five straight games for an 8-4 victory.
But after Princeton took No. 2 doubles, the fans at Levy Pavilion turned their attention to the No. 1 doubles match between Ivan Turudic and Nikola Kocovic of Penn and Matt Siow and Matt Spindler of Princeton.
After a seesaw of momentum, it went into a tiebreaker.
The Quakers’ duo fell behind in the tiebreaker, 0-3, after Turudic had back-to-back double faults. But the Red and Blue fought back to 4-4 and the teams traded off points until the tiebreaker was even at 7-7.
At that moment, Spindler’s easy volley trickled off the top of the net but fell back to Princeton’s side.
Penn closed out the doubles point with a winner by Kocovic.
The Quakers were noticeably pumped up and they took the first set in four of the singles matches.
Princeton tied the score at 1-1 after winning the No. 1 singles match with ease. Penn responded by taking No. 3 and No. 5 singles.
With a 3-1 lead, the Red and Blue needed to win just one of the three remaining matches to beat the Tigers.
However, Rob Wong blew a 4-1 lead in the second set to drop his No. 4 singles match.
For the Tigers to win, the same doubles players, Siow and Spindler, who had luck working against them at No. 1 doubles, would both need to come back to win their singles matches.
When Wong’s match ended, Kocovic still looked in control at No. 2 singles. Though he dropped the second set against Spindler, he took a 3-1 lead in the third set and had a triple break point.
If he had won just one of the next three points, he would have a nearly insurmountable two break lead. But Kocovic would drop the next seven consecutive points.
The Mount Laurel, N.J., native grew noticeably frustrated. Serving at 3-4, he missed two easy volleys and double faulted. He didn’t bounce back and lost the final set, 6-3.
With the match tied 3-3, players and fans ran over to the back side of Levy Pavilion to watch the No. 6 singles match between Katz and Siow. Katz was filling in for senior Jason Lin, who was out with a foot injury.
“Katz is a tough kid and he competes,” Geatz said.
They had split the first two sets and Katz was down a break, 3-2. Katz broke back, but gave up that break on a crucial double fault in the next game.
After another break by Siow, the score was 4-3 and the game went to deuce. After a long rally, Siow came to net and had the full court to put away an easy volley, but missed wide.
The crowd erupted and Katz won the game on another missed volley by Siow.
With the crowd behind him and all the momentum, Katz won four straight points to hold his serve for the first time in three games.
But Siow bounced back. The two each held their serve in back-to-back service games and drew the match into a tiebreaker.
Siow and Katz both looked confident and played aggressively in the tiebreaker. Katz took a 5-2 lead on a series of big groundstroke winners.
Siow continued to fight back and brought out all his best shots in the final points. He took away Katz’s momentum with a perfectly placed lob that left Katz dumbfounded.
Siow would take the next four points as well, winning the tiebreaker, 7-5.
Though he was noticeably upset, Geatz was happy with his team’s efforts. He called the match “one of [Penn’s] better matches of the year.”
“I feel bad for the guys, but it’s hard to feel bad for their efforts,” he said.
The coach is not concerned about his team’s ability to bounce back.
“Somebody’s going to have to pay for what happened today and it’s going to be Yale on Saturday.”