©Colette Lewis 2009--
The fifth-ranked Virginia Cavaliers defended their ITA Team Indoor title Monday afternoon with a 4-1 victory over No. 3 Georgia at the Midtown Tennis Club.
When Virginia's Drew Courtney pounded a serve that Georgia's Josh Varela couldn't handle to close out the No. 6 singles match, the freshman from Clifton, Virginia put an end to the Bulldogs' recent dominance of the Cavaliers.
"Playing Georgia is a huge thing in Virginia tennis," Courtney said. "Coming out here knowing I was playing Georgia for the first time, I knew I had to step up and do what I can to help the team."
Although Courtney was playing Georgia for the first time, some of his teammates recall the disappointing losses to the Bulldogs in the past two NCAAs, with the 2008 Georgia loss, when Virginia was undefeated and ranked No. 1, still fresh in their collective memories.
"I think losing in the semifinals last year brought a lot of hunger, particularly the way it happened," said Virginia head coach Brian Boland, referring to the cramping that Sanam Singh experienced when playing Jamie Hunt in the deciding match. "They wanted to get back and have another shot this year."
Although the score was 4-1, the same score that Virginia posted in their victory at the 2008 Indoor over Ohio State, it was a very close match, as personified by the doubles point.
In some of the most amazing doubles displayed outside of the ATP tour, the two teams went back and forth, as first Virginia established momentum, up a break on all three courts, and then Georgia fought back to even it.
At one stage, Virginia had match points on two courts-- No. 3 when Georgia's Drake Bernstein and Javier Garrapiz were down four match points serving at 6-7 against Courtney and Lee Singer; and No. 2, when Virginia's Dom Inglot and Michael Shabaz were up 7-4 and serving on Georgia's Borja Malo and Christian Vitulli. But Bernstein and Garrapiz fought off all those points to hold for 7-7, and Inglot needed several more deuces and ads, before he and Shabaz finally secured the match, on a controversial ace.
At No. 1 doubles, Virginia's Houston Barrick and Singh were up 6-4, but were unable to serve it out against Hunt and Nate Schnugg, and they reached a tiebreaker just moments before the No. 3 court got to their 17th game. It was Barrick and Singh who excelled in that pressure-backed stanza, taking a 9-8(2) victory and the precious first point.
When the singles began, Virginia took the lead with first sets at No. 4 and No. 5, with Barrick getting in front of Malo at 4 and freshman Steven Rooda taking the opener from Bernstein at 5. But the Bulldogs had earned a first set of their own at No. 6, when the energetic Varela recorded a 6-0 set against Courtney.
On the front three courts, where the vast majority of the hundreds of spectators were seated, Schnugg posted the first set against Inglot at No. 1 and Shabaz took a one set lead on Garrapiz at No. 3. In the rematch of that unforgettable NCAA match in Tulsa, Hunt and Singh were the last to finish a set, and twice--at 5-4 and 6-5--Singh was serving for the opening set, only to be broken. Hunt won the tiebreaker, but by that time, Barrick and Rooda were close to finishing their matches, and a few minutes later Barrick had recorded a 6-4, 6-0 win, and Rooda a 6-3, 6-2 victory.
It was 2-0 Virginia, but Georgia had gained a split at No. 3, and shortly thereafter, Schnugg got the Bulldogs on the board with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Inglot, although Rooda's win gave Virginia their two-point cushion again. Courtney had come back with a 6-0 set of his own to even that match, and with the finishes on courts 2 and 3 still a ways off, a few dozen spectators began to focus exclusively on Court 6.
Serving at 4-5, Courtney got down 0-30, but fought back to take the next four points to make it 5-5. And when he broke Varela in the next game, Courtney knew he had to keep his composure for the upcoming game.
"I knew I had to just be calm," Courtney said. "I was so psyched that I broke, I just wanted to settle down and focus, bring it back in and make first serves."
He didn't make one until he was up 30-15, but then the 6-foot-5 Courtney got all his considerable power into two first deliveries, and Varela wasn't able to direct either into the court.
By the time the rest of Courtney's teammates got the word and arrived on court 6, the excitement was still in the air.
"It feels good," said Boland. "We're happy to be champs in Chicago. And it is nice to beat Georgia. The last three years, we've lost five matches and three of them have been to Georgia. And credit to them. Someone said, oh, you have a rivalry with Georgia, and I said it's not a rivalry until we can beat them, so maybe it is now."
"Is 14-1 a rivalry?" joked Georgia coach Manny Diaz, noting that the Bulldogs are still well out in front in the overall competition between teams. "No, it's been a rivalry for a long time, and for me to say something like that is almost insulting to the great program they have and have had for quite a while now. We've had a tremendous amount of success against a lot of people, especially the last four years or so. We might have come up a little bit short today, but we've had a tremendous week."
Georgia won the ITA Team Indoor in 2006 and 2007. They did not win the NCAAs in 2006, losing to Pepperdine in the final, but did take the title in 2007. Virginia, last year's Team Indoor champions. fell short in 2008 at the NCAAs, but they are hoping the pattern their rivals from Georgia established continues when the NCAAs convene in College Station, Texas in May.
For the complete scores, see the ITA Tournament page.
In Madison, Wisc., the Northwestern Wildcats became the first Big Ten team to win the Women's Indoor championship, defeating the University of Georgia 4-1. For more on the women's tournament, see the ITA tournament website.
Monday, February 16, 2009