Pepperdine's Alex Llompart has represented Puerto Rico in Davis Cup for five years and his 14-4 record includes singles wins in away ties. But nothing in his tennis career compares to his 7-6(2), 6-7(2), 6-4 win over Georgia's Sadio Doumbia that clinched the Waves 4-3 victory over the No. 2 seeds, and silenced thousand of Bulldog fans.
"This is number 1," said Llompart, a senior playing line 3 for the No. 7 seeds. "I've played Davis Cup before, I've won at home, but there's nothing like what happened today out there."
The match, which began at 4 p.m. and ended at 8:48 p.m. was full of twists and turns. Pepperdine started out by winning the doubles point with Llompart and Finn Tearney taking No. 1 doubles 8-1 and Hugh Clarke and David Sofaer collecting No. 3 doubles with a 9-7 win over Wil Spencer and KU Singh.
Pepperdine coach Adam Steinberg thought that point was particularly important given the circumstances.
"We've never really been in this situation, this team," said Steinberg. "We've never played in front of a crowd like that, and how they handled that, coming out and winning the doubles point, I was so proud of them for that. It was so big, because we thought, wow, we can really do this, and it made a believer out of everybody."
There was no question that the Pepperdine supporters were outnumbered and of the 3,167 fans attending, probably no more than 30 were cheering for the Waves. Yet the Waves continued to keep the crowd concerned as well as supportive, taking four first sets in singles.
Georgia got a quick 6-1, 6-3 win from Ignacio Taboada over Mousheg Hovhannisyan at 4, and took a 2-1 lead with KU Singh's 7-6(3), 6-2 win over Finn Tearney at 2, but the score stayed there for a very long time. Georgia's Spencer had earned a third set with Sebastian Fanselow at 1 and Nathan Pasha had split with Pepperdine's Hugh Clarke at 5, so there was ample and realistic hope for the Georgia fans. Pasha gave Georgia a brief 3-1 lead with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over Clarke, but just a few minutes later, Pepperdine had closed the gap with Jenson Turner's 6-4, 7-6(4) victory over Hernus Pieters at 6.
That left the match in the hands of the players on courts 1 and 3. Spencer was broken early in his third set with Fanselow, while Doumbia had come back from down 5-2 in the second set. Llompart had served for the match at 5-3 in the second, but was broken at love. Doumbia then held at love, but Llompart recovered to hold for 6-5.
With Doumbia serving at 5-6 in the second set, and Spencer serving at 3-5 in the third set, both faced match points at the same precise moment. Spencer, in fact, faced three of them, going down 0-40, while Doumbia survived his one match point when Llompart netted a backhand and went on to hold for a tiebreaker. Spencer saved all three match points and then a fourth before holding for 5-4, and at the changeover asked for a medical time out. Spencer said later he was suffering from stomach issues due to salt tablets, and Fanselow finished off the match, converting his fifth match point to make it 3-3.
Doumbia had played an assured tiebreaker to force the third set, which began at 8 p.m., precisely four hours after the match started. All eyes were now on court 3, and Doumbia, hearing chants of his name from the Georgia crowd, played well in his first two service games. He was unable to take advantage of his early break opportunities however, and Llompart seized on his in the fifth game, playing aggressively, approaching the net often, and taking a 3-2 lead.
Both players held until Llompart was once again in the position to serve out the match, this time at 5-4 and this time with not just the match but the entire Pepperdine season in the balance.
After a nifty running forehand winner by Doumbia, Llompart fell behind 15-40, raising Georgia hopes, but he never waivered in his aggressive approach. Several times both players were at the net volleying, and Llompart was daring Doumbia to pass him. On the first break point Doumbia missed a backhand pass wide, and on the second, Llompart managed a perfect lob winner as Doumbia stood at the net.
Llompart missed only two first serves in the eight points played, and at deuce, he got a good first serve in, with Doumbia netting a forehand return. He also got a first serve in on his first match point, and when Doumbia netted his backhand, the wild celebration began, with the only noise in the stadium coming from the Wave players and coaches.
Asked how he managed to stay aggressive in the final moments of such a pressure-packed situation, Llompart was blunt.
"In the second set I tried to stay back, and it didn't work out very well," Llompart said. "I had a couple of match points, I served for it, and that didn't work out very well, so I had to do something different. We talked about it, executed the game plan and I'm happy I got the win for the boys."
Doumbia wasn't surprised by Llompart's tactics.
"I guess he was pretty tired and trying to shorten the points," said Doumbia, a senior. "I was cramping since the second set, but no, I wasn't really surprised. He played well."
Georgia coach Manny Diaz credited Pepperdine for their ability to rise to the occasion.
"They brought their best tennis at the most important times," said Diaz. "I've got to give them all the credit. We competed well, we gave it all we had, but we came up a little bit short. We all agreed that maybe we could have played better, but a lot of that was the fact that Pepperdine just played loose, played aggressive and played very composed in the most important moments."
Steinberg now faces the difficult task of bringing his team back down from such an emotional win to face No. 3 Virginia in less than 24 hours.
"We've talked about that," said Steinberg. "The four seniors, we just don't want the year to end. We want to keep playing as long as they'll allow us. I told the guys in there that this feels amazing, but the ultimate goal when you get here for all 16 teams is to finish with that ring at the end. So I think we need to keep our eye on that and find a way to come back tomorrow against an amazing team."
Virginia did indeed look amazing in their 4-0 win over No. 11 seed Stanford.
The Cavaliers took the doubles point with a win at 1, with Jarmere Jenkins and Drew Courtney beating Ryan Thacher and Denis Lin 9-8(2) after the teams had split on courts 2 and 3.
Virginia took five first sets in singles and didn't look back, with Mitchell Frank at 3, Drew Courtney at 4 and Justin Shane at 5 getting straight set wins over Matt Kandath, John Morrissey and Daniel Ho respectively. Alex Domijan had match points on Ryan Thacher as Shane collected the fourth point.
"I was pleased with the way team played," said coach Brian Boland, who taken his teams to the final four in five of the last six years. " We came out with a lot of energy and I thought it stayed with us throughout the match. I thought we had a little bit of a lull in our match with Berkeley, but today, the guys' energy was all the way through the match. I thought we played an excellent match from start to finish, with the focus and a great purpose."
Unable to play in singles last year as his team made the final, Drew Courtney is now healthy and eager to be on the court in his few remaining days of college tennis competition.
"Last year was the toughest, on the sideline, knowing how much the team thrives on the moment and I thrive on this moment," Courtney said. "It was definitely tough last year, but it's good to be out there this year."
As Pepperdine and Georgia battled with their score 1-1, Boland was asked if, with the short turnaround time, he felt his team had an advantage.
"It is an advantage to get off the court," Boland said. "Get our guys recovering right away. From the looks of it, they still have a lot of work to do, but we respect either team and look forward to whoever we play."
Stanford coach John Whitlinger was impressed with the Virginia team he saw in Sunday's quarterfinals.
"Virginia's a great team," said Whitlinger. "We almost snuck the doubles point, like we did in Charlottesville. I was really proud of the effort the guys gave in doubles, and it was close. Would that have made a difference? I don't know. They're very good and they deserved to win. We gave it everything we had, and Virginia was just too good tonight."
The semifinals Monday begin at 1 p.m. with the women. Top seed UCLA and No. 5 USC will play in one semifinal, with No. 3 Duke and No. 2 seed Florida in the other.
The men's semifinals, with No. 1 USC against No. 4 UCLA and No. 3 Virginia against No. 7 Pepperdine, are scheduled for 5 p.m.
#7 PEPPERDINE (27-6) def. #2 GEORGIA (26-3), 4-3 - Henry Feild Stadium
Head Coaches: Manuel Diaz (GEORGIA) and Adam Steinberg (PEPPERDINE)
Doubles (Order of finish: 1,2,3)
1. #15 Alex Llompart/Finn Tearney (PEPPERDINE) def. Sadio Doumbia/Hernus Pieters (GEORGIA), 8-1
2. #41 Nathan Pasha/Ignacio Taboada (GEORGIA) def. Sebastian Fanselow/Jenson Turner (PEPPERDINE), 8-5
3. Hugh Clarke/David Sofaer (PEPPERDINE) def. KU Singh/Wil Spencer (GEORGIA), 9-7
Singles (Order of finish: 4,2,5,6,1,3*)
1. #8 Sebastian Fanselow (PEPPERDINE) def. #11 Wil Spencer (GEORGIA), 6-3, 3-6, 6-4
2. #19 KU Singh (GEORGIA) def. #30 Finn Tearney (PEPPERDINE) 7-6(3), 6-2
3. Alex Llompart (PEPPERDINE) def. #32 Sadio Doumbia (GEORGIA), 7-6(2), 6-7(2), 6-4
4. #52 Ignacio Taboada (GEORGIA) def. #109 Mousheg Hovhannisyan (PEPPERDINE), 6-1, 6-3
5. Nathan Pasha (GEORGIA) def. Hugh Clarke (PEPPERDINE), 4-6, 6-3, 6-1
6. Jenson Turner (PEPPERDINE) def. #60 Hernus Pieters (GEORGIA), 6-4, 7-6(4)
#3 VIRGINIA (28-1) def. #11 STANFORD (20-9), 4-0 - McWhorter Courts
Head Coaches: Brian Boland (VIRGINIA) and John Whitlinger (STANFORD)
Doubles (Order of finish: 3,2,1)
1. #5 Drew Courtney/Jarmere Jenkins (VIRGINIA) def. Denis Lin/Ryan Thacher (STANFORD), 9-8(2)
2. Bradley Klahn/John Morrissey (STANFORD) def. Alex Domijan/Mitchell Frank (VIRGINIA), 8-5
3. Justin Shane/Julen Uriguen (VIRGINIA) def. Jamin Ball/Matt Kandath (STANFORD), 8-4
Singles (Order of finish: 3,4,5*)
1. #4 Jarmere Jenkins (VIRGINIA) vs. #36 Bradley Klahn (STANFORD), 7-6(1), 2-3, unfinished
2. #39 Alex Domijan (VIRGINIA) vs. #29 Ryan Thacher (STANFORD), 6-3, 5-3, unfinished
3. #2 Mitchell Frank (VIRGINIA) def. Matt Kandath (STANFORD), 6-2, 6-0
4. Drew Courtney (VIRGINIA) def. John Morrissey (STANFORD), 6-2, 6-4
5. #82 Justin Shane (VIRGINIA) def. Daniel Ho (STANFORD), 6-4, 6-1
6. Julen Uriguen (VIRGINIA) vs. Robert Stineman (STANFORD), 4-6, 2-2, unfinished