Nicolas Roh/HIGHLANDER

After nearly getting swept in last season’s matchup, the UC Riverside men’s tennis team (3-2) issued payback against Air Force (3-1) this time around, outlasting the academy with a final score of 4-3 at home.

Despite UCR doubles holding multiple match points throughout, the Falcons ran away with the first point of the afternoon by sweeping all three of Riverside’s doubles teams. This meant that if the Highlanders wanted to walk away with a win for the overall match, they’d need to record four singles wins — and they did just that.

“It’s pretty big for our program,” coach Mattias Johansson said on Friday evening, “Knowing that we could compete with another pretty good Division One program — it gives a lot of [our] guys confidence.”

And from the looks of it, the team didn’t relinquish any confidence at all. Junior Gilbert Chung took care of business at the number four singles slot, winning in straight sets 6-1, 6-1 over the Falcons’ Tadhg Collins.

With the home team trailing 3-1 overall, freshman Andreas Whelan-Merediz outlasted Mack Galvin on court six with a final set score of 6-3, 6-4. The freshman’s second career singles win came at a crucial time, cutting the Air Force lead to 3-2.

This left the pressure to rest on the shoulders of the Highlanders’ captains at the number one and two singles position. Court one had senior Kyle McCann face off against Air Force’s Patrick Sklenka, where the two duked it out in the opening set, with McCann winning 7-6 (7-4) in the tiebreak. A single break of serve decided the difference, as the senior closed out 6-3 in the second.

McCann’s win tied the overall score at 3-3, and with the sun going down and the wind picking up, all eyes set on junior Nabil Abdallah’s court to close out the win. Abdallah broke Luke Sanderson’s serve once in the first set, winning 6-4. Sanderson then came roaring back in the second to force a tiebreak, edging the Highlander 7-6 (7-4) to force a third and final set. Another break of serve put Abdallah up 3-0 in the final set, but Sanderson broke back and trailed only 4-3. After splitting the next two games to move the score to 5-4, Abdallah’s passing shots would seal the deal, as the junior won the last set 6-4.

The Highlanders stormed the court to celebrate with Abdallah, who picked up the team’s only win in their previous matchup against the Air Force last season, where the Highlanders fell 6-1.

This is the team’s last home match for about another month and a half, where they embark on a road trip to Utah and Nevada that has them play five matches in four days.

If we can survive these upcoming away matches, it’ll build a lot of confidence. This trip is big for us — if we can sneak out a pair of wins during this Vegas trip, then it’ll be fantastic considering where we really want to get going for the rest of the season, coach Johansson said.

Men’s tennis faces off at Southern Utah on Thursday, Jan. 31.

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