Feb. 3, 2014
BEAUMONT - Trailing 4-1 with more than 20 years of history going against him, Mikko Rajamaki may have been feeling some pressure on Monday evening vs. UT Arlington. However, the junior responded in emphatic fashion vs. the former conference nemesis, leading the Lamar men's tennis team back from the brink for an exciting 4-3 win over the Mavericks at Thompson Family Tennis Center.
"Even when I was behind, I still felt confident and just kept fighting," Rajamaki said. "I started to play much better, and everybody was out there supporting me. I love it when all the spirit is there. Of course it feels great to be the one to close the match, but we all came together today for this. It was a whole team effort, and I just happened to be the last one out there."
The Tampere, Finland, native was matched up with Mario Muniesa at No. 5 singles. It was a battle from the start as Rajamaki grabbed the first set in a tight 6-5 affair before dropping the second 3-6. Facing a three-point gauntlet in the fourth, he went on the offensive, running off five straight points for the deciding 6-4 decision to secure LU's first victory over UTA since 1987.
"There's no doubt that this is a huge win for us and this program," head coach Scott Shankles said. "Mikko has been through a lot the last two years, and he is the hardest worker on this team. He never gives up and he's always fighting. For him to come back the way he did really goes to show his maturity and why he's a captain. I'm glad it was Mikko, but a lot of credit goes to our fans today. We had a huge amount of vocal support in the stands, and if we have one player that feeds off that, it's Mikko."
Rajamaki's duel was far from the only drama on display on Monday, as many of the matches turned into white-knuckles affairs, and perhaps none so much as that of Steven McMullan's meeting with Pablo Colvee at No. 6. McMullan coasted to a 6-1 win in the first set, but Colvee landed the counterpunch with a 6-5 decision in the second. Fortunately for LU, McMullan came out on top in a back-and-forth third, 6-5.
"Steven works really hard, and he's starting to learn how good that he can be," Shankles said. "This year, he's taken his game to another level. He's maturing, and for him to win like he did was huge. Without that performance, we don't win this match, and my hat really goes off to Steve. He fought really hard today."
McMullan's tiebreaker proved important as both Juuso Laitinen and Carl-Philip Lindqvist dropped matches at positions three and four, respectively. Laitinen fell 5-6, 6-5, 2-6 to Daniel Armengol, and Lindqvist went down in 2-6, 6-2, 4-6 fashion to Sebastian Erimicioiu.
After dropping a close doubles point, Nikita Lis and Michael Feucht kick-started LU in singles with dominating showings at the top two spots. Lis improved to a flawless 4-0 mark with a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Carlos Arbiza on Court 1, and Feucht handed Daniel Echeverry a 6-1, 6-2 decision on Court 2.
In doubles, Armengol and Austin Robles beat Rajamaki and Jeandre Hoogenboezem 6-4 to grab the early advantage. McMullan and Lis looked to be in control with a 5-0 lead, but the tandem of Arbiza and Javier Perez came all the way back to win 6-5 and clinch the match's opening tally for the Mavericks.
"I told the guys that if UTA can come back from 5-0 down to win line two doubles, we can come back from 1-0 down to win this match," Shankles revealed. "These guys were very determined to come out and win four of the six singles matches, and I couldn't be more proud of how they responded to win today."
With the victory, LU now improves to 4-2 on the year, the best start for the program since 2010. UTA dropped to 0-2.
The Cards will return to action on Valentine's Day with a trip to Edinburg to take on another former Southland rival in Texas-Pan American.