Texas men’s tennis upsets No. 1 USC in thrilling comeback, ultimately falls short

Ross Fisher

From dropping a match to a Big 12 rival to beating the No.1-ranked team in the nation, No. 5 Texas men’s tennis experienced spectacular highs and crushing lows this weekend at the ITA Team Indoor Championship in Champaign, Illinois. 

After losing to No. 4 Baylor for the second time in just a couple of weeks, Texas went on to stage an incredible comeback win against No. 1 USC before ultimately falling to No. 10 Tennessee. Texas had a disappointing performance out of the gate in each match, ceding all three doubles points and losing 16 of 18 first sets in singles play. 

“I felt like they were ready to go,” head coach Bruce Berque said. “I think it is a long week, and these guys are young and don’t have much experience with this tournament.”

The only two Longhorns to feature this weekend with less than four years of eligibility left, senior Payton Holden and junior Chih Chi Huang, did not manage to pick up any wins at No. 2 doubles.

“So far against the better teams, we’re coming up short with our No. 2 team,” Berque said. “No. 1 and No. 3 go back and forth, so we may explore other options.”

Despite struggling early, Berque remains optimistic about the outlook of the season and his young team’s resiliency following comebacks against USC and Tennessee. 

After USC won the doubles point and the first two singles matches to take a 3-0 lead, the Trojans’ advantage seemed insurmountable and Texas appeared to be headed toward a second consecutive 4-0 loss. 

However, Texas got a glimmer of hope, with No. 120 sophomore Eliot Spizzirri and No. 78 freshman Micah Braswell both picking up wins against ranked opposition to close the gap to 3-2.

After dropping his first set, sophomore Evin McDonald squeezed out a pair of 7-5 advantages to defeat USC junior Jake Sands and draw the overall score level at 3-3. 

Both teams turned their attention to No. 4 singles, where sophomore Cleeve Harper and No. 79 USC sophomore Ryder Jackson were level on sets. The final set was back and forth until the fifth game, when Harper tore off on a 4-0 run to win 7-5, 6-1, 6-2.

Harper clinched the remarkable comeback over the top-ranked team in the country on deuce point as his teammates mobbed him in celebration.

Texas then fell to Tennessee as the Volunteers snatched the doubles point quickly, posting 6-2 victories at No. 1 and No. 2.. Tennessee went on to win all six first sets in singles play as the Longhorns continued to have trouble starting matches.

For the third straight match, Texas found itself down 3-0, following singles defeats for Spizzirri at No. 1 and McDonald at No. 6. However, Texas gained a lifeline as Braswell and Harper each held off their opponents in three sets to bring the score to 3-2. 

Huang, who struggled all weekend, fought back from a 5-2 deficit in his deciding set to bring it to 5-5. He then went down 6-5 on a deuce point, and his opponent, Tennessee graduate student Luca Wiedenmann, got a break to clinch the overall match for the Volunteers. 

“We almost made an even more dramatic comeback,” Berque said after the loss to Tennessee. “But I'm still proud of the fight that we showed today, and I think we'll gain a lot from this weekend.”