©Colette Lewis 2010--
In the wee hours of a foggy Saturday morning on the most distant courts at the Dan Magill Tennis Center, freshman Lawrence Formentera gave the Oklahoma Sooners a shocking 4-2 win over No. 3 ranked Texas.
It all started routinely enough at 8:30 p.m. on Friday evening, with the match set back over two hours due to afternoon rain. Texas took the doubles point with wins at No. 2 and No. 3 courts, and the Longhorns looked to be on their way to duplicating their 6-1 win over the Sooners during the Big 12 conference season.
But when the first four singles matches took the lower four McWhorter courts, Oklahoma took the first set in three of them, and with the upper two courts still too wet for play, all attention was focused there. Costin Paval drew the Sooners even with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Kellen Damico at No. 3, then Texas took the lead again when Dimitar Kutrovsky beat Andrei Daescu at No. 1 7-5, 6-3. Sooner Ionut Beleleu made it 2-2 with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Ed Corrie at No. 2, and when David Pultr defeated Jean Andersen of Texas 7-6(5), 7-6(2) at No. 4, only the two upper court matches remained.
At No. 6, Formentera had dropped the first set to Vasko Mladenov, but he was up a break in the second. Formentera, a Californian who joined the Sooners in January, gave that break back, but he played a confident tiebreaker in the second set, earning a third set with a inspired backhand winner on his first set point. Meanwhile, on court 5, Josh Zavala had taken the the first set of his match with George Chanturia in a tiebreaker and they were on serve in the second set.
As midnight came and went, the several hundred fans watching the two matches began to dwindle in number, although both teams were still cheering loudly and so vociferously that they had to be calmed down by the assistant referee. Boomer Sooner chants alternated with the Texas Fight cheer and neither set of passionate voices could clear the fog that had descended around the courts.
In the third set, Formentera was up a break at 4-2, lost it, but gained it back to serve for the match at 6-5. At 30-0, an untimely and rare double fault plus a net cord winner by Mladenov brought it to 30-30, and the possibility of a third set tiebreaker loomed.
On Court 5, Zavala and Chanturia were in a second set tiebreaker, and at 6-5 Zavala had a match point, which would have put all the pressure on Formentera. But Zavala missed a volley to make it 6-6, and Chanturia won the second set when Zavala made two more errors on a volley and return.
Just two points away from delivering the upset, Formentera hit an aggressive backhand that caused Mladenov's response to find the net. At 40-30, Formentera lined up a forehand and put it away to give him a 2-6, 7-6(2), 7-5 win and his team an improbable 4-2 victory.
Swarmed by his teammates and coaches, there was pandemonium on the court. Afterward, an emotional John Roddick had this to say about his team's win:
"For these guys to come together right now like this is something that I have never seen," Roddick said, his voice breaking. "I told the guys last night, our doubles are still improving and we've gotten better in singles at every spot since we played them last time. I told them there's no reason every one of you guys couldn't go out and win your singles matches. If you just keep getting better, and not worry about winning and losing, good things happen, always."
Texas coach Michael Center was hard pressed to explain his team's loss.
"I have to give OU credit, they hung in there and they fought, but for some reason, we just couldn't get it going tonight. I hadn't seen that all year long. Every time we had a chance to put pressure on them or gain momentum, we couldn't do it. It was really odd."
John Roddick and his team have now earned a place in the quarterfinals against Georgia where Roddick was an All-American in the late 1990s. Taking on his former coach Manny Diaz in a match of such significance in his first year as a head coach is not something Roddick expected.
"What a day it will be, win or lose," Roddick said. "What an opportunity for these kids. We're just here to play. Our guys can't wait. They are excited to play in front of the crowd. They were talking about hearing it during our match."
What the Sooners were hearing was a loud and enthusiastic Georgia crowd erupting at every key point in the 11th-seeded Bulldogs 4-2 upset of No. 6 Florida. After taking the doubles point with wins at No. 1 and No. 2, Georgia lost four of the first six sets in singles. They needed someone to turn his match around, and two players did so. At No. 4, Drake Bernstein came back to give Georgia a 2-1 lead by beating Bob Van Overbeek 1-6, 6-1, 6-2, and at No. 3, Jamie Hunt earned a split with Antoine Benneteau.
At 2-2, Nate Schnugg sent the crowd into a frenzy with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Joey Burkhardt at No. 2 just as Javier Garrapiz and Alex Lacroix were entering a tiebreaker at No. 1. Garrapiz had won the first set 6-4, and he broke Lacroix serving for the second set at 5-4. In the subsequent tiebreaker, which Lacroix had to win to keep the match going, Garrapiz squandered a 5-2 lead, but at 5-5, he got a backhand error from Lacroix. At match point, Garrapiz's shot fell near the far sideline, and Lacroix called it out, but the chair overruled him, and the thousand or so Bulldog faithful roared their approval.
Florida coach Andy Jackson commended Georgia for taking advantage of their home courts.
"That's to their credit, it's not to our discredit," Jackson said. "It's why it's a fantastic place to hold the tournament, because they bring people to the matches. It's fantastic, unless you play them."
Diaz admitted that the support his team received was instrumental in their win.
"Our guys were energized by being home in front of their fans, just like they (Florida) were energized and able to play better in the big points when we played them in Gainesville. When you play in front of your fans, you want to give your best, compete to the best of your ability, and I thought we did that today."
For complete results, see the interactive draw at ncaa.com.
NOTE: Although I am writing this at 3 a.m. Saturday, I am posting it to Friday May 21st for clarity's sake.
Friday, May 21, 2010