CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – The Brandeis University team of Jeffrey Chen '22 (Northfield, Ill./New Trier) and Adam Tzeng '22 (Eagle, Idaho/Eagle) made a remarkable comeback in the semifinals of the NCAA Division III Doubles tournament today and finished as the 2021 runners-up.
In the semifinals, the Judges came from behind to defeat Nick Aney and Alex Budde of Gustavus Adolphus College, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), to become the first Brandeis doubles team in program history, and the first men's tennis Judges since Noel Occomy '89 won the singles title in 1988, to reach the Division III finals.
"Jeff and Adam played incredible tennis all weekend," said Brandeis second-year head coach Pauri Pandian. "They went up against some of the best teams in the country and showed that they were capable of beating them."
"Tennessee treated us well," Tzeng said. "Making those two comebacks are moments from my career that I will always remember going forward."
"Making that comeback against the #1 seed [from Case Western Reserve in yesterday's quarterfinal] was such an incredible moment, and being able to go out there and do it again was a testament to our mental fortitude," Chen added. "It was an incredible experience and definitely two matches that I won't forget for a long time."
Chen and Tzeng finished as runners-up after falling to Leo Vithoonian and Xander Zuczek of Carleton College in the finals, 3-6, 2-6.
The Judges, who fell behind a set in their quarterfinal match against the top-seeded team from Case Western Reserve University, did the same today in the semis. The first two sets were tightly played, with just one service break each. After six service holds in the opening set, GAC got a break on Tzeng's serve in the eighth game and held in the ninth to take a 6-3 win. In the second, it was Brandeis breaking in game six to earn the 6-3 victory.
Gustavus Adolphus got off to a quick start in the third set, winning the first three games, including a break of Chen in the second game on the second deuce point. The teams held serve in the next five games, giving the Gusties a 5-2 lead. After Tzeng dropped the first two points on his serve, he won the next four to get to 5-3, but GAC's Aney had a chance to serve for the match.
The Judges earned their first break handily at 40-15, and Chen held to get to 5-all. Budde did the same to give Gustavus Adolphus a 6-5 lead. With Tzeng serving, the teams traded the first 10 points. On the second deuce, GAC earned the advantage and a match point, but Tzeng responded with a big serve. The Gusties would get to match point twice more, but twice Tzeng and Chen fought it off before winning the game to force a tiebreaker. In all, in the quarterfinals and semifinals, the Brandeis duo held off six match points from their opponents.
"The amazing thing is that on those six match points, the opponents didn't make any unforced errors," Pandian said. "Having saved three match points from the day before was a huge confidence boost headed into today's match."
After splitting the first two points of the breaker, Tzeng and Chen rattled off four straight points and went on to win, 7-2, to advance to the finals. For the match, the Judges saved nine of the 11 break points they faced, while converting three of their eight break opportunities. The overall match was tightly contested as you would expect, with Brandeis winning 106 points to Gustavus Adolphus won 105.
"It was appropriate that the semifinal match came down to a tiebreaker in the third set between two great teams," Pandian said.
Against Carleton seniors Vithoonian and Zuczek in the final, the Judges were also facing the individual singles champion in Vithoonian. The Knights had not dropped a set in the doubles tournament and Vithoonian lost just two in the singles draw, in his opening match in the title match against Tufts' Boris Sorkin. In the first set of the doubles final, it was a single break in the sixth that made the difference and gave Carleton a 6-3 win. Chen was able to fend off five break opportunities on his serve to keep the Judges in the set.
In the third game of the second set, Chen did the same, twice delivering aces with the advantage to the Knights, but Carleton eventually succeeded in breaking on their sixth opportunity of the game to take an early 2-1 lead. Zuczek consolidated to make it 3-1 in favor of Carleton.
Brandeis trailed, 3-2, when they had their first chance of the match to break on Vithoonian's serve. The Judges went up, 15-40, but were unable to get the finishing blow, as the Carleton duo won four straight points to go ahead, 4-2. Buoyed by the hold, the Knights won eight of the last 10 points of the match to claim the title, 6-3, 6-2.
Despite dropping the final, the Judges are Brandeis's first doubles team to win any match at the NCAA Division III Tournament since 1989, and advance further than any duo in school history. Chen and Tzeng will return for their senior season in 2021-22 with a 27-9 career record as a tandem. The Judges will also return five of their six singles players and four of six doubles starters from a squad that went 8-2 and won their first NCAA Division III tournament matches to reach the quarterfinals earlier this week before falling to the eventual champions from Emory.
"This was a great opportunity to show who Brandeis tennis is and what we are capable of," Tzeng added. "We couldn't have done it without our teammates' and coaches' support."
"It was great to represent Brandeis on a national scale, going out and giving it our all," Chen continued. "I hope to be back and take home an even bigger trophy next year."