©Colette Lewis 2010--
The University of Southern California has something the Tennessee Volunteers want--a national title. The Trojans, who have won five NCAA titles since the format change in 1977, and 17 overall, including 2009's, will try to deny Tennessee its first NCAA men's tennis championship on Tuesday evening.
The fifth-seeded Trojans defeated top-ranked Virginia 4-2 on the McWhorter courts Monday, while No. 2 Tennessee quieted the home crowd with a 4-1 win over eleventh seed Georgia.
USC and Virginia started the action, with the Cavalier and Trojan fans packing the bleachers behind the four main courts. Southern California broke up a close doubles point, winning almost simultaneously at lines 1 and 2. Daniel Nguyen and JT Sundling downed Houston Barrick and Sanam Singh 8-6 at 2, and moments later Robert Farah and Steve Johnson beat Michael Shabaz and Drew Courtney 8-5 to put USC up 1-0.
Virginia had managed to overcome the loss of the doubles point in Sunday's quarterfinal win over UCLA but they had difficulty getting much momentum against the Trojans at the start of singles. Farah jumped out to a 6-1 1ead against Shabaz at No. 1, and at No. 6, Peter Lucassen had an early 6-2 lead over Julen Uriguen of Virginia. The Cavaliers did take the first set at No. 2, with Singh leading Johnson; No. 3, with Jarmere Jenkins leading Poldma; and No. 5 with Barrick leading Matt Kecki. But when Courtney dropped a 7-6(9) first set to Nguyen, by far the longest first set of any of the six matches, there was an uneasiness among Virginia fans.
That sense of foreboding got worse when at No. 1, Shabaz was unable to convert four set points in a second set tiebreaker and fell to Farah 6-1, 7-6(9), to give Southern Cal a 2-0 lead. Johnson had forced a third set with Singh, and Courtney was down 3-0 in the second set to Nguyen, while Uriguen was down 5-2 in the second to Lucassen. Hope arrived in the form of Barrick, who closed out Kecki 6-2, 7-6(8), but just seconds later, Uriguen finally lost a marathon match game to make it 3-1 USC.
After a medical timeout down 0-3, Courtney had fought to get back on serve, and with Jenkins finishing off Jaak Poldma at No. 3 6-3, 7-5 to make it 3-2. Singh and Johnson were early in the third set, so Courtney needed to win his second set to keep Virginia alive. Serving at 4-5, Courtney played a tired-looking game, with unforced errors leading to a 30-40 score. There was to be no celebration by Nguyen after the next point however, as Courtney double faulted to give Nguyen a 7-6(9), 6-4 win.
"He had his run, but I just stayed on it, stayed focused," said Nguyen of Courtney's comeback in the second set. "I knew in the last game he was tired, and I was tired as well, so I just fought out there."
Although the Tennessee - Georgia match was still in progress, Southern California Coach Peter Smith didn't hesitate in calling Tennessee the "team to beat."
"I think they've had the best outdoor season, they've had the toughest schedule and they've really proven themselves," Smith said. "I think they're very, very good, very solid. They got it all-great doubles, great players at the top, great depth. They're playing for a national title and they've never done it. So we'll see."
Virginia coach Brian Boland had little to say after his team failed to reach the final for the third straight year, despite entering the tournament as the top seed.
"USC played a great match and they were the better team," Boland said, answering in the affirmative when asked if this was the most disappointing of the past three losses. "We left it on the court and are very disappointed."
The crowd that turned out for the Bulldogs on Monday did not reach the numbers that attended the Oklahoma match Sunday evening, but it was loud and supportive nonetheless.
They had their share of excitement in the doubles point with Tennessee, which saw only one of the three matches fail to reach a tiebreaker. At No. 3 doubles, Edward Jones and Matteo Fago of Tennessee took an 8-5 win from Drake Bernstein and Will Oliver, and with Rhyne Williams and Boris Conkic holding a 6-2 lead over Jamie Hunt and Christian Vitulli at No. 2, the Volunteers seemed poised to chalk up a quick point. But Hunt and Vitulli won six of the next seven games, giving Vitulli an opportunity to serve out the match. He was broken however, on a double fault at 30-40, to send it to a tiebreaker.
Court 1 was already in one, and Georgia's Javier Garrapiz and Nate Schnugg had saved two match points down 4-6 in their tiebreaker with JP Smith and Davey Sandgren. On the second of those, Smith double faulted and two points later Georgia had the win 9-8(6).
On court two, all the crowd's support was now directed toward Hunt and Vitulli, but it was the Tennessee team that played cleaner tennis, making few errors, even during the net exchanges. Williams and Conkic took a 6-2 lead and Williams served it out.
"It just showed the character of Rhyne and Boris," said Tennessee coach Sam Winterbotham. "When you're at court level, hearing that energy coming from the Georgia fans, it just shows how committed those guys were to what we set out to do, and they played a great tiebreak to win it."
In the singles, Winterbotham chose to remove Matt Brewer from the lineup, which moved Fago up to 5 and moved Davey Sandgren into the 6 spot.
It paid off quickly, as Sandgren earned the Vols second point with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Will Reynolds.
Georgia had hope however, with Schnugg earning a split with Conkic at No. 2, Garrapiz leading Smith at No. 1, and Bernstein coming back from a 6-0 first-set loss to Tennys Sandgren at No. 4 to even that match.
Garrapiz, celebrating his birthday today, gave Georgia its lone point with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over Smith, but shortly thereafter, Fago defeated Vitulli 7-5, 6-3 to make it 3-1. On Court 3, Williams and Hunt were locked in a tight struggle, and Williams was particularly a target of the Bulldog fans, who even began counting up the seconds he was taking between points. Williams failed to respond in the way they were hoping though, taking the tiebreak 7-6(8) in the first set, and jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the second.
While Williams was serving for the match at 3, Tennys Sandgren had a 15-40 lead at 4-5 in the third set, with Bernstein serving. Sandgren didn't get the first match point, but did get the second, giving the Sandgren siblings the same number of points for the day as Stanford's Burdette sisters. With his 6-0, 4-6, 6-4 win, Sandgren had helped put Tennesse in its first final since 2001.
"We both got off to fast starts, Davey was up 3-0, I was up 3-0, Matteo was up 3-0--we were doing pretty well in the bottom," Tennys said. "It's great to play with him so close and for both of us to come up with W's, it's awesome."
Although Georgia wasn't able to duplicate the national title it won the last time the NCAAs were held in Athens, coach Manny Diaz was pleased with the run his team made this year. Reluctant to call them overachievers, Diaz said putting that label on the team wouldn't be giving his players enough credit.
"Tennessee is a great team. We've come a long ways, especially in the last two, three weeks...," Diaz said. "We put in the work, these guys really dedicated themselves, really trained hard, really focused, and we knew we were going to have a good NCAA tournament."
Looking ahead to the final, Winterbotham downplayed the implications of playing for Tennessee's first national title.
"This is going to sound funny and you may not believe me but, it's the next match," Winterbotham said. "We'll have plenty of opportunities to sit back and look at our accomplishments this year, and I'll promise you we'll do that, but we're preparing ourselves for the next one. We've done that all year, and we're going to continue to do that."
As for USC, Winterbotham has great respect for the team across the nets Tuesday evening.
"They're the returning NCAA champions, with nearly everybody back...it does not surprise me one bit that they're here."
The men's team final will be aired on ESPNU at 6 p.m. EDT Tuesday.
#5 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (24-3) def. #1 VIRGINIA (39-2), 4-2
Head Coaches: Peter Smith (Southern California) and Tony Bresky (Virginia)
Doubles (Order of finish: 2,1)
1. #2 Robert Farah/Steve Johnson (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #14 Michael Shabaz/Drew Courtney (VIRGINIA), 8-5
2. Daniel Nguyen/JT Sundling (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #41 Houston Barrick/Sanam Singh (VIRGINIA), 8-6
3. Peter Lucassen/Jaak Poldma (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) vs. Lee Singer/Jarmere Jenkins (VIRGINIA), 5-5, unf.
Singles (Order of finish: 1,5,6,3,4*)
1. #9 Robert Farah (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #11 Michael Shabaz (VIRGINIA), 6-1, 7-6(9)
2. #3 Steve Johnson (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) vs. #14 Sanam Singh (VIRGINIA), 4-6, 6-4, 1-2, unf.
3. #57 Jarmere Jenkins (VIRGINIA) def. #89 Jaak Poldma (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 6-3, 7-5
4. #83 Daniel Nguyen (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #46 Drew Courtney (VIRGINIA), 7-6(9), 6-4
5. #106 Houston Barrick (VIRGINIA) def. Matt Kecki (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 6-2, 7-6(8)
6. #121 Peter Lucassen (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. Julen Uriguen (VIRGINIA), 6-2, 6-3
#2 TENNESSEE (31-1) def. #11 GEORGIA (21-8), 4-1
Head Coaches: Sam Winterbotham (Tennessee) and Manuel Diaz (Georgia)
Doubles (Order of finish: 3,1,2)
1. #32 Javier Garrapiz/Nate Schnugg (GEORGIA) def. #3 J.P. Smith/Davey Sandgren (TENNESSEE) 9-8(6)
2. #12 Rhyne Williams/Boris Conkic (TENNESSEE) def. Jamie Hunt/Christian Vitulli (GEORGIA) 9-8(2)
3. Edward Jones/Matteo Fago (TENNESSEE) def. Drake Bernstein/Will Oliver (GEORGIA) 8-5
Singles (Order of finish: 6,1,5,4*)
1. #22 Javier Garrapiz (GEORGIA) def. #1 J.P. Smith (TENNESSEE), 7-5, 6-4
2. #75 Nate Schnugg (GEORGIA) vs. #36 Boris Conkic (TENNESSEE), 2-6, 6-0, 4-3, unf.
3. Jamie Hunt (GEORGIA) vs. #45 Rhyne Williams (TENNESSEE), 6-7 (8-10), 0-5, unf.
4. #111 Tennys Sandgren (TENNESSEE) def. #115 Drake Bernstein (GEORGIA), 6-0, 4-6, 6-4
5. Matteo Fago (TENNESSEE) def. Christian Vitulli (GEORGIA), 7-5, 6-3
6. Davey Sandgren (TENNESSEE) def. Will Reynolds (GEORGIA), 6-4, 6-3
Monday, May 24, 2010