Down 4-3 in the first set against Radford seniors Malik Mubeen and Sanjay Kishore, a torrential downpour blanketed the courts at Radford University on Thursday, forcing George Mason’s Tim Goetz and Brian Sham to move to Virginia Tech to continue their single A state doubles semifinal match.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs duo, the change of scenery did little to help their chances, as Mubeen and Kishore prevailed indoors 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 to advance to the championship match on Saturday.
“Pressure was the difference, getting tense,” Goetz said. “We just couldn’t pull through. They’ve played together for several years so they know each other and Brian and I just started playing together this year. Experience was definitely a factor there. They’re better overall at doubles too.”
With the match finally concluding on a lengthy deuce, it ended the exact way it was played: extremely hard fought and down to the wire. Down 5-2, Mason had an opportunity to break serve on Mubeen and pushed the group A singles champion to the brink with five deuces. In the end, Mubeen nailed an ace up the right side of the court to clinch the match victory.
“It came down to a couple points in the first set, that tiebreaker,” Mubeen said. “We just got a couple breakers. The second set we got a break too and barely hung on.”
The Bobcats broke the opening game of the first set and then went on to hold serve to climb up 2-0. After a seven-point deuce, Sham eventually held, after which point all four players proceeded to hold serve in succession.
“We played well when we had to,” Mubeen said. “Neither of us was playing our best, but we just tried to gut it out. We were just trying to stay focused together and concentrate on our shots.”
After Radford went up 4-3, the rain started to cover the Radford courts, forcing the half-hour drive over to Blacksburg. In spite of the move to indoor courts, the pace of the game refused to slow.
Mason broke Kishore’s serve on a pair of double faults to push the set to a tie, eventually going ahead 5-4 on three Kishore unforced errors. Mubeen held serve with a pair of aces, followed by Sham’s hold. Kishore proceeded to hold to force a tiebreaker, aided by a barrage of Mubeen’s smashes at the net. Radford eventually took the tiebreaker 7-5 and with it the first set.
By charging both players to the net, Radford was able to break serve on Goetz, going up 4-1 in the latter set. Even though a few forehand smashes by Goetz and a few Bobcat unforced errors allowed Mason to climb back, the eventual deuce secured Radford’s place in the doubles finals.
“That’s usually how they play, just closing the net,” Goetz said. “They don’t get a ton of shots playing like that, but we just had to go for them.”
Over the past year, a friendship has developed between Mubeen and Goetz, and their rivalry was in full display on Thursday afternoon.
The two competed as partners in a Washington D.C.-based doubles tournament last summer and, in the first time playing with each other, finished as runners-up to a duo that practiced regularly together.
“It was really fun playing against them today,” Goetz said. “It’s really competitive but we really have a good time together.”
“Tim’s a great player, so hats off to him today,” Mubeen added. “We had so much fun at that doubles tournament together, we combine well. He’s just a great guy, so it was a lot of fun to play against him and play with. But we’re definitely going to see more of him later this week.”
The victory was especially sweet for Mubeen and Kishore, who lost to George Mason in the doubles final two years ago and again to the Mustangs in the team finals in both 2006 and ’07. They both were also members of Radford’s Scholastic Bowl team, which was eliminated by the Mustangs in the state tournament in the winter. This year, though, there would be no Mason miracle.
“It feels great,” Mubeen said. “We’ve lost to Mason like a thousand times in the past.”
Mubeen and Kishore will face Gate City’s Dalton Moore and J.T. McDonnell, who were straight set winners over Appomattox Regional Governor School’s (ARGS) Perry Lowder and Matthew Cody, in the doubles final on Saturday.
Knocked out of the doubles tournament, the Mustangs now turn their attention to their team semifinal match against ARGS, to be held Friday at 1 p.m. In the event of rain, the match will be played at Virginia Tech’s indoor courts at 2 p.m.