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Rising Phoenix: Antinheimo saves match points to save Elon’s season

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. Oskar Antinheimo had been in exactly the same position he had been in late Friday evening. The only thing that made this time different were the stakes.

With the Elon University men’s tennis team deadlocked at 3-3 against No. 6 seed Campbell in the CAA Tournament quarterfinals, Antinheimo was the last man on court for the Phoenix. After splitting the first two sets of his match at No. 3 singles, the sophomore needed to win the final set to keep Elon’s season alive.

Antinheimo was linked to the Phoenix this season. On February 22 against Gardner-Webb, he saved a match point in the third set with an incredible passing shot, ultimately becoming the decisive point in a dramatic 4–3 victory. Then, on March 25, at No. 68 William & Mary, Antinheimo delivered again in crunch time, this time holding on in a second-set breaker to post a 4–3 victory for Elon.

During a change early in the final set, Friday became head coach Michael Leonard approached Antinheimo and reminded him “this is the stuff you love.” Having been in this situation before, Antinheimo managed to stay loose and have fun despite the increasing pressure.

“I enjoy playing in these moments,” Antinheimo said. ‘I don’t know what else you can do. Just enjoy it.’

 


Antinheimo did not enjoy the ninth game of the final set, as Campbell’s Lukas Steffen converted a deuce point into a break serve to take the lead 5-4. But just as he has done when faced with adversity throughout the season, the sophomore fought back in the next match, grabbing a deuce point of his own to save a match point and make it 5-5.

As his teammates and coaches watched anxiously from the adjacent field, Antinheimo consolidated the break to lead 6-5. Steffen responded with a grab of his own to send the set into a winner-take-all tiebreak.

Steffen built momentum early in the breaker and led 5-3. Antinheimo responded by winning the next two points to even the score. After Steffen won the eleventh point of the tiebreak and set up a second match point, Antinheimo returned to the baseline to serve. He hit his first serve of the game and it didn’t come back over the net, as the sophomore saved a second match point to make it 6-6.

“I hit a good serve,” Antinheimo said. “I served pretty well, trusted my serve and played aggressively.”

The players switched sides after Antinheimo’s second breakaway of the night. Antinheimo won the next point and created his own match point at 7-6. On the fourth shot of the ensuing point, Antinheimo lobbed Steffen and watched the ball float to the ground for a winner.

When the ball hit the ground, Antinheimo threw his hat and racket to the ground as his teammates rushed to celebrate with him.

“It was crazy,” Antinheimo said. “I really love this team. We are a very, very close group of guys and I think it’s great that we can still compete tomorrow and have a chance to win the whole tournament.”

 


Although Antinheimo was the decisive point, he was not the only crucial part of Elon’s comeback. On the other set of three courts at William & Mary’s McCormack & Nagelsen Indoor Tennis Center, Juan Sengariz fought through a three-set match of his own and Dylan Hope won a crucial tiebreak in the first set to complete a straight sets victory. Elon also scored a memorable doubles point thanks to a win over Sengariz and partner Ben Zipay.

“I’m so happy for all the guys and the way everyone else put in so much effort,” Antinheimo said. “Everyone is a very good competitor and loves to fight. Everyone is willing to put in the extra effort to play for this team.”

Antinheimo’s burst of drama saved Elon several times before Friday. But his unforgettable battle against the Camels left even him speechless.

“Crazy, crazy game,” Antinheimo said. “What can I say?”

 


“Rising Phoenix” is a new student-led initiative covering Elon Athletics. Through innovative content creation and storytelling, Elon University students have the opportunity to highlight the moments, people and events that make an impact, utilizing the athletic department’s various web and social media platforms for distribution. Follow Rising Phoenix on Twitter (@EURisingPhoenix) and Instagram (@elonrisingphoenix). Interested in participating in this initiative as a content creator (video, images, writing, storytelling or more)? Contact Jacob Kisamore at [email protected].


–ELON–