©Colette Lewis 2008--
The silence was deafening.
In the raucous atmosphere of college team tennis, the final set of the deciding match determining who will play for a national title is not usually played noiselessly.
But Virginia's Sanam Singh was cramping, and the crowd gathered around the back court was subdued in deference to his obvious discomfort.
After winning the first set from Georgia's Jamie Hunt at No. 4 singles, Singh, a freshman from India, began to experience problems in the late stages of the second set, which Hunt won 6-3. A ten-minute heat break, given due to the high temperatures when the match started at around 6:30 p.m., allowed him an opportunity to rest, and a medical timeout also was taken when the heat break was over, but it was to no avail. Singh could not move, and in mere minutes the 6-0 final set was over. Fourth ranked Georgia had upset the undefeated Virginia Cavaliers, ending their perfect season. And more importantly, the Bulldogs now have a chance to defend their 2007 title Tuesday evening against the Texas Longhorns, 4-2 winners over UCLA.
It started well for Virginia, as a lively doubles point went to the Cavaliers with wins at No. 1 and No. 2, with Georgia taking No. 3 doubles before the first two were decided. Virginia's No. 1 team of Somdev Devvarman and Treat Huey needed five match points before they eventually subdued Hunt and partner Nate Schnugg, and Dom Inglot and Michael Shabaz had to overcome an early break and then a failure to seal it with Inglot serving for it at 7-4. Inglot and Shabaz finally took it 9-7 from Luis Flores and Javier Garrapiz, giving the Cavaliers that precious first point.
Fourth seeded Georgia was undaunted however, and came out blazing in the singles, taking five first sets, including at No. 1 and No. 6, where the Cavaliers had been undefeated all season. Before Singh had completed his first set win over Hunt for Virginia, the Bulldogs had already tied the score with Flores' 6-2, 6-1 rout of Inglot at No. 3.
Schnugg was next off the court, taking out Huey in a clinical 6-4, 6-2, and the Bulldogs made it 3-1 with Garrapiz's 7-5, 6-3 win over Shabaz at No. 5. But Devvarman had taken the second set at No. 1 and Ted Angelinos had also forced a third set at No. 6, so it looked as if Hunt and Singh could decide it.
Angelinos completed his comeback against Christian Vitulli by a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 score, and Devvarman beat back Travis Helgeson 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, but by the time the Virginia players had lined up on the court to cheer on Singh, there was nothing to shout about.
"It didn't end in the way we ever expected it to," said Virginia coach Brian Boland. "It's been several years I think, since we've won the doubles point and lost a match. To say I'm surprised is an understatement, but at the same time you have to give Georgia credit. They wanted to win, clearly, but as competitive a match as we all expected it to be, I don't think anyone thought it would end that way. I think it was disappointing in some sense for everybody, even though I'm sure they're happy to be playing for a national championship tomorrow, I thought they handled it with total class."
Georgia coach Manny Diaz knows the pain of having a streak stopped short of a national championship, when his 2006 Bulldogs were surprised by Pepperdine in the finals, their only loss of the year.
"We're just very humbled for this opportunity. I really feel for the Virginia squad right now, only because we've been there not so long ago. People can quickly forget what a great year they've had and what a great bunch of competitors they have, and what they've done is outstanding."
Although Hunt was happy with the outcome, the finish wasn't what he was envisioning either.
"It takes a little bit away from it," said Hunt, a sophomore from Texas. "I really wanted to play it when we were both a hundred percent, because that would have been an unbelievable match. You know three-all, it would have been so much fun. It's tough playing when he's cramping like that, but I'm just so proud of every one of our guys for stepping up. I'm looking forward to it tomorrow."
Hunt mentioned that he and his good friend Kellen Damico, who plays No. 2 for Texas, had exchanged text messages when the Selection Show on ESPNews had revealed the draw, hoping for a Texas - Georgia final. Their wish is now reality, as the No. 7 seeded Longhorns handled the third seeded UCLA Bruins, with sophomore Ditimar Kutrovsky once again clinching at No. 1 singles after dropping the first set. This time it was Harel Srugo, who had clinched the Bruins win over USC in the quarterfinals, who fell to the two-handed shots of the Bulgarian 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.
"I played aggressive throughout the second and third set and he got a little tired and I took advantage of my chances," Kutrovsky said. "I stayed out there and fought as hard as I could.”
After taking the doubles point with wins at No. 2 and No. 3, Texas won only two of the six first sets. UCLA tied the score with a win at No. 3--Mathieu Dehaine over Ed Corrie 6-4, 6-2--but the match began tilting the Longhorns way when Kutrovsky won his second set and Miguel Reyes Varela also earned a split against Nick Meister at No. 6. Jeremy Drean defeated Milan Mihailovic 7-6(3), 6-2 at No. 5 to give UCLA their second, and last lead. Texas earned its second point with Luis Diaz Barriga taking down Michael Look 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 at No. 4, and Varela completed his comeback with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 victory over Meister at No. 6, giving Kutrovsky his chance to finish, and give Texas its first-ever berth in the men's finals.
Texas coach Michael Center is delighted to have the opportunity to compete for a national title.
“It’s exciting. Over the history of our program we are the winningest team in college tennis, but we haven’t really broken through to play for a national championship to give us the credibility that we’re trying to get," Center said. "Now we are in a position to break through. I hope we will be looking for the challenge and can take that next step tomorrow."
It's a step that Georgia has already taken, with the Bulldogs aiming for their sixth national championship Tuesday evening, against a team that they have already beaten this year, at the ITA National Team Indoor 4-2. But Diaz is taking nothing for granted.
"It was one heck of a match. It was a great battle," Diaz said. "They have a very deep and talented squad. They’re just playing outstanding tennis right now. I remember thinking to myself and discussing with my assistant after we lost to Ohio State, I actually told him that I think Texas is a better team than Ohio State. I’m not too surprised. They’re athletic. They’re deep and talented and worthy of being in the finals."
For complete results, see the Tulsa website.
For more coverage of the Georgia Bulldogs, see ajc.com. Atlanta Journal Constitution sportswriter Chip Towers has been onsite in Tulsa throughout the team championships, writing about the men's and women's team from Georgia and the women's Georgia Tech team.
Monday, May 19, 2008