©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, TX
Friends Nate Schnugg and Kellen Damico each put their teams in the quarterfinals, taking the clinching matches of two hard-fought 4-3 victories.
Damico went first, taking the No. 3 singles line for the Longhorns 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-3 over Tennessee's Matteo Fago. In the press conference after the match, Tennessee coach Sam Winterbotham thought that perhaps his player was more tentative than the always intense Damico, and went down 5-1 in the third set before he started to play to win.
Damico said that when he failed to win a point on his serve trying to end the match at 5-1, it was more due to Fago's play. Damico did say he was tired after breaking to go up 5-1, but that some intensive training in the past few weeks has paid off for he and his team. After Fago held for 5-3, Damico got a gift when serving at 30-30. Fago had a nondescript second serve to deal with, and he put the forehand return in the net, giving Damico a match point. A crazy bounce on Fago's return of another second serve hung in the air for a moment, but fell wide to put the 2008 NCAA finalists in the quarterfinals against 2007 and 2008 champion Georgia.
Unlike last year, when Schnugg and Damico played each other in the final, that won't be the case this year, with Schnugg playing at No. 1 and Damico at No. 3.
After Georgia won the doubles point, Illinois took five of six first sets, but coach Manny Diaz wasn't about to count his team out.
"Winning is a habit," said Diaz, "and the mindset that our guys carry from our success last year and the year before, our practices, what we talk to these guys about, what they commit to and take ownership of, that's what you want to show up in a match like today. No doubt about it, that's why we won this match today."
With the match coming down to No. 1 singles, Schnugg was up 5-3 on Illinois's Marc Spicijaric. Spicijaric saved a match point in that game, and when Schnugg went up 30-0 serving at 5-4, it looked like it would be a routine close out for the junior. But a forehand error and a missed volley and suddenly it was 30-30.
The next point was controversial, as Schnugg approached and was lobbed by Spicijaric. Schnugg ran back to get it swung and missed, then went back to the fence and this time his swing did result in a connection with the ball and he got it back in play. Spicijaric apparently questioned the chair during then (it was below me and I didn't see it), but since Spicijaric was only hindering his own play on the ball, the subsequent error that came from Schnugg's racquet (if I'm remembering correctly) stood, although Schnugg and Diaz argued that Spicijaric's actions had disrupted him.
The point stood, but Schnugg survived the break point, and a double fault on his first match point. On the second one, a long rally ended when Schnugg hit a picture-perfect drop shot winner, a shot selection doubly effective because it was so totally unexpected.
Both Diaz and Schnugg complimented Illinois in general and Spicijaric in particular for a great match and career, but it is the Bulldogs who are moving on.
Thursday, May 14, 2009