NORMAN — It was just 16 days earlier that coach John Roddick and his Oklahoma men’s tennis team lost a route at Baylor. That day, only Costin Paval, at No. 1 singles, topped his Bear opponent.
Paval lost Sunday at the Headington Family Tennis Center, site of the Big 12 tournament. Also, the 14th-ranked Sooners beat the 13th-ranked Bears 4-2 to claim their second straight conference title.
“Winning the first was hard and winning the second was harder,” Roddick said. “It’s a challenge and to start being in the mix every year … Our expectation (in) the players is starting to really show and the confidence from them has really risen.”
The closer was Axel Alvarez Llamas, a freshman Spaniard forced to remain composed even as the two matches on either side of him ended, both with Baylor victories.
Because OU won the doubles point, and because the Sooners had claimed two of three matches on the three courts opposite the grandstand, all OU needed was for Alvarez to keep it going.
He claimed the first set over Julian Lenz 7-6 (7-5), but was having an easier time of it in the second, up a break, 4-2, when he and Lenz became the focal point of the dual.
Lenz saved one match point, but a baseline winner from Alvarez Llamas earned a second. Maybe 12 shots into another long rally, the Sooner surprised the Bear with a forehand drop shot that didn’t come back.
Had it been grass or clay, the Sooners might have dogpiled. Instead they had to settle for excited screams and hugs all around.
Eventually, as their coach spoke to reporters, the players hit Roddick with a Gatorade bucket shower. Prior to that, much of the talk was about what happened at No. 3 doubles, the victory that allowed OU to claim its championship by breaking the singles matches even.
“That was huge,” Roddick said.
The No. 1 and No. 2 doubles matches split, leaving the doubles point on the rackets of OU’s Nick Papak and Larry Formentara.
A bit of a college tennis oddity, neither is foreign born. Formentara is Temecula, Calif., and Papak is from, no kidding, Norman.
A regular at Westwood Tennis Center before moving to Fresno, Calif., after the eighth grade, Papak spent a year at Fresno State before transferring back to his hometown and redshirting last season.
He and Formentara were playing Baylor’s Tony Lupieri and Lenz. Deadlocked 7-7, they played a tiebreaker few will forget. The Sooners trailed 5-1. Then everything turned around.
First, OU won a second point. Next, Lenz thought he’d served an ace to make it 6-2 but the Sooners called it wide. The Bears appealed to the umpire, who appealed to the linesman, who called it wide. Lenz followed with consecutive double faults, making it 5-4. Then Papak delivered an ace the Bears called wide but the umpire overruled, making it 5-5.
Then Lenz hit a return in the net. Then the Bears saved match point. Then Lupieri double faulted. Then Formentara delivered a first serve, the Bears returned it and Papak put away the volley.
OU had the doubles point.
“We just tried to stay in there mentally. Anything can happen in a tiebreaker,” Papak said. “We didn’t really think about being down 5-1. Just (play) one point at a time and see what happens.”
What happened was OU won 7 of 8 points to go from nowhere to victory.
Alvarez Llamas, 10 minutes after it ended, failed at playing it cool.
“It’s my freshman year. It was the biggest crowd we’ve had the whole year,” he said. “I can’t believe it. Right now, I can’t breathe, I’m so happy.”
It may have had still more meaning for Papak, who earned another point for his team by stopping Baylor’s Roberto Maytin 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 in the No. 6 singles match.
“You come to OU to do this,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words. It’s everything we’ve worked for the entire year.”
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