Fresno State senior Sai Kartik Nakireddi earned a win in his final home match Sunday against Nevada. (Paul Schlesinger/The Collegian)
The final home game of the season marked a storybook ending for the lone senior on the court Saturday afternoon for the Fresno State men’s tennis team.
Fresno State beat Nevada by a score of 4-1, though it was more competitive than the score would indicate. Three matches were in the third set, before the Bulldogs scored the clinching point.
But the score almost felt like an afterthought as the crowd focused squarely on Court 1, where senior Sai Kartik Nakireddi played in his final home match as a Bulldog.
“He’s not the most vocal guy,” said Fresno State head coach Evan Austin. “But this last little bit, this stretch, he’s kind of said: ‘Listen, it’s senior year, and I’m down to my final shot at this thing.’ He’s really picked it up, and he wants to go out on a good note.”
The ending that all the Bulldog faithful wanted was held out excruciatingly long as Kartik and his opponent, Nevada senior Moez Chargui, battled back and forth throughout the sweltering afternoon.
They put on an exhausting spectacle, punctuated by one look at Kartik’s hairline which was drenched with sweat heading into the deciding tie break. It was clear Kartik was playing differently late in the third set, as he was chopping returns and playing off-speed with his hits.
“To the end, I saw if I was giving him pace he was hitting better,” Kartik said. “So I thought I would slow it down, mix up the pace. He was struggling, he was missing more when I did that, so it was kind of what worked out for me.”
The savvy veteran took that strategy into a tie-break that actually lived up to the match before it. Chargui held a 5-2 lead against Kartik, at which point the air was noticeably thick in the stands. But Kartik had one last great comeback in him.
After Kartik battled back to a 6-5 match point, Chargui wouldn’t go away and put away the point with authority at the net. Ultimately though, Kartik seized his final opportunity and finished the set with an 8-6 tie-break victory.
Ever the consummate teammate, he downplayed his moment after the match.
“It feels great to clinch the match on senior day,” Kartik said. “But the important thing is we won, so that’s a good thing.”
Of course, he added a little humanity into his response as an afterthought.
“But it feels better because I clinched it.” Kartik said, the ghost of a smile on his lips.
The Bulldogs opened up the match with a loss in two of three doubles sets, with the team of Kartik and Papic taking the only victory for Fresno State.
In singles, Youseff Hassan scored the first victory for Fresno State in straight sets, Euan McIntosh and Eric Komati followed suit with convincing victories of their own to set the stage for Kartik.
A truly tender moment followed moments after Kartik scored the winning point. High fives and hugs were exchanged between Kartik and all the Bulldogs players and coaches who congregated immediately to Court 1. Not one congratulation was left unsaid for the momentous occasion.
Looking ahead, the ‘Dogs are heading to the Mountain West Tournament hosted by New Mexico, which Austin believes is wide open for the taking.
“Going up to Albuquerque,” Austin said. “It’s in the altitude. And you know the good thing is we should have a lot of confidence going in. We’ve started to play better in some of these pressure situations. Hopefully, we can finish strong and do some damage there.”