By Travis Rae, NAIA Communications and Sports Information Intern
MOBILE, Ala. – (Box Score) (Bracket) Embry-Riddle (Fla.) won its first ever national championship in men’s tennis in dramatic fashion as the Eagles defeated Auburn Montgomery (Ala.), 5-4. Deni Zmak won the match for the Eagles as he won his match in a third set tiebreaker, 9-7, to claim the national championship.
“It was a little bit of disbelief and this match (Deni Zmak of Embry-Riddle and Tim Hewitt of Auburn Montgomery) was one of the greatest matches I have been involved with,” said Embry-Riddle Head Coach Dave Pashcal said. “They had two match points and it is just amazing that we could come from behind the whole time and claim the national championship.”
Auburn Montgomery took an early advantage against Embry-Riddle (Fla.) in doubles action. The Warhawks took 2-of-3 doubles matches against the Eagles. The Warhawks claimed the first point of the match by winning No. 1 doubles, 8-6. They added to their lead by winning No. 3 doubles, 8-4. Embry-Riddle battled back in No. 2 doubles, as Patrick Besch and Anthony Grasso, won the only doubles match for Embry-Riddle, 9-7.
After doubles, Auburn Montgomery held a 2-1 lead over Embry-Riddle.
Embry-Riddle started battling back in singles action as Simon Felix defeated Zinelabidine Jouini, 6-2, 6-1, to get the Eagles back to even in the match. However, the lead did not last long for the Eagles as No. 6 singles finished up shortly after. Auburn Montgomery’s Othmane Lalami won No. 6 singles, 6-4, 6-1, to take a 3-2 lead.
The Eagles bounced back to tie the match at 3-3, when Chris Freeman claimed the No. 3 singles 6-2, 6-3. The match did not stay tied for very long as Nicolas Pinones-Haltenhoff claimed No. 1 singles, 7-5, 6-1 over Patrick Besch to put the Warhawks back on top, 4-3.
Nos. 2 and 4 singles were a battle to the end as both matches went to the third set. In No. 4 singles Anthony Grasso of Embry-Riddle was faced up against Miguel Grifol of Auburn Montgomery. Grifol took set one 6-4. Grasso rebounded nicely to win the second and third set by scores of 6-4. This evened the match at 4-4.
With the match tied at four the national championship came down to one match, No. 2 singles featuring Embry-Riddle’s Deni Zmak and Auburn Montgomery’s Tim Hewitt. Zmak won the first set, 6-4, while Hewitt responded by claiming set two, 6-4. The third set was as contested as it could be. Auburn Montgomery had match point but Zmak fought back. The third set ended up going to a tiebreaker.
In the tiebreaker, Zmak raced out to a 4-2 lead but Hewitt was not going away easy as he battled back to take a 7-6 lead. The two traded leads until it was tied at 7-7. With the next point, Zmak pulled ahead. With Zmak ahead 8-7, Zmak and Hewitt started a rally that ended with Hewitt sending the ball into the net to end the match and Embry-Riddle claiming its first national championship in men’s tennis.
Embry-Riddle concluded their season by winning 18-straight matches. After the match Dave Pascal was named 2013 NAIA Coach of the Year, while Demi Zmak won the Ward-Ballinger Award.