Calling it the best team since he’s been at Vanderbilt, Ian Duvenhage sends his men’s tennis team to Oxford, Miss., for the SEC men’s tennis tournament.
Bolstered by a No. 13 national ranking, the Commodores try to avenge an early-season loss when they take on Auburn in their opening-round match, noon Thursday at the Ole Miss courts.
Vanderbilt (15-9 and 6-6 in the SEC) is a lock for an NCAA team invitation, along with one or two players individually.
“Based on the talented players we had coming back and being ranked as high as No. 12 at one point, I’d say yes [this is our most talented team],” Duvenhage said, just before departing for Mississippi. “But a lot depends on when you asked the question. After we started 4-1 in the SEC, it would be clearly yes. But after last weekend [a 4-0 loss at South Carolina, then 4-1 loss at Florida], that was disappointing. Losing those two matches dropped us from a No. 3 seed all the way to a No. 7.
Vanderbilt was ranked 13th when it faced Florida, which was ranked 17th.
“That was the first time I can ever remember that we were ranked ahead of Florida, but they were clearly the best team,” he said. “We’ve been in the top 20 all season.”
Ace Ryan Lipman heads a talented lineup. He has overcome a series of injuries and fashioned a 28-9 fall/spring record, 8-4 in the tough SEC.
“He’s made a really strong comeback,” Duvenhage said. “He’s ranked 10th [nationally], and for sure, he’ll make the NCAA tournament and will probably be a seed.”
Gonzales Austin collected the only win for Vanderbilt at Florida at No. 2 singles. Ranked No. 46, he also is in line for a possible NCAA invite.
If Vanderbilt wins, it plays No. 2 seed Tennessee on Friday. To do so it must avenge a home loss to Auburn on March 29.
“Hopefully, we can turn the tables on them,” Duvenhage said.
Other tournaments on tap:
• The No. 18-ranked Vanderbilt women’s tennis team, the No. 6 seed, received a bye in the SEC tournament at Starkville, Miss.
The Commodores will play the winner of Wednesday’s Kentucky-LSU match in the second round, 5 p.m. Thursday. Vanderbilt is 14-10, 7-6 in the SEC after losing at home to Florida 4-1 Sunday.
• Vanderbilt’s men, who have won three tournament championships this spring, will compete in the SEC golf tournament, which runs Friday through Sunday at Sea Island, Ga.
• The Vanderbilt women, who finished fourth in the Bryan National Collegiates in Alabama last week, return to the same course for the SEC women’s golf tournament outside Birmingham. That event also runs Friday through Sunday.