This was no country club tennis match.
In a frenzied atmosphere at the Hecht Tennis Center on Sunday, Penn men’s tennis took on Brown to complete their opening weekend of Ivy League play.
After beating Yale, 5-2 — in a match that saw the Quakers win the doubles point and four of the six singles matches over the Bulldogs (12-8, 0-2 Ivy) in relatively simple, straight-set fashion on Saturday — Sunday’s match was a whole different story, as the Red and Blue won, 4-3, with tremendous drama.
From the outset, both teams were loud. In behavior unusual for tennis, each squad seemed to be taunting and screaming directly at the opposing players, even during points.
After winning the doubles point, the rest of the day would be defined by several massive momentum swings in singles.
Brown (8-14, 0-2) came out and won the No. 1 and 2 singles positions, as Penn freshman Kyle Mautner and senior Vim de Alwis lost in straight sets.
At the Nos. 3 and 4 positions, with Penn (7-11, 2-0) leading 3-2 and needing to win only one of the two remaining singles marches, things got absolutely wild.
Junior Matt Nardella split the opening two sets before finding himself down 5-3 in the third. He knotted the score up at five, and the entire crowd erupted, sensing a Red and Blue Victory. However, he dropped the next two games to lose 7-5 in the third.
With the match tied 3-3, it all came down to sophomore Josh Pompan.
Pompan, who had woken up Sunday morning with the stomach flu, lost the first set in a tiebreaker to Brown’s No. 3 singles player Mladen Mitak. As Nardella lost, the Quakers were hopeful Pompan could force and then win a third set. His opponent was confident, ripping flat groundstrokes as Pompan scrambled to stay in points. Not playing his best tennis, Pompan still managed to win the second. The match came down to one final set.
With a packed Hecht Tennis Center and both teams lining the court, tensions were elevated. Despite long, hard-fought points, the match seemed to be over when Pompan went down 5-1. Looking exhausted from being sick and the grueling points he was playing, he put his head down and got to work.
Slowly but surely, he fought his way back and suddenly he held serve to get the score to 5-4 and the home crowd erupted.
It was time for his Michael Jordan “flu game” moment.
As he changed sides, Pompan vomited on the court, causing a brief delay in the action. Undeterred, the violently ill Quaker continued the match and watched his opponent double fault, tying the game up at five.
“All I said was ‘I am not going to lose this match,'" Pompan said. “I was cramping and not feeling well but Coach [David] Geatz and Coach Ward just kept telling me to pull through. I was ready to pass out at any time but I kept thinking to myself to just take it one point at a time, one shot at a time and do what we practiced. It was great.”
It was over after that. Pompan, with all the momentum and confidence, held to go up 6-5 and then broke again to win, 6-7, 6-4, 7-5. His teammates piled on top of him. Penn had won, 4-3.
Penn head coach David Geatz couldn’t help but marvel at Pompan’s resolve as well as his team’s undefeated opening weekend in Ancient Eight play.
“We’re 2-0 and on top of the Ivy League right now, so it feels great,” Geatz said. “We just won [one] of the most exciting matches I’ve ever seen in college tennis.
"I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a match with more drama and you couldn’t have scripted it any better for us. Josh won six games in a row in a pressure situation with everyone screaming and yelling against a good opponent. That’s not easy to do and it’s a great accomplishment.”
From a straightforward win against Yale to Pompan’s heroics against Brown, the Quakers sit at the top of the Ivy League standings after a fantastic weekend topped off with possibly the most thrilling match in Penn tennis history.
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