Georgia is good in tennis. Everybody knows that. But sometimes it’s hard to truly appreciate the level of success the Bulldogs enjoy in that sport.
Georgia’s men’s team captured their 34th SEC championship this past weekend in Starkville, Miss. Just let that number wash over you for a few seconds. Then think about this one: The title was the 14th for coach Manny Diaz. That’s one more than the legendary Dan Magill, for whom Georgia’s vast tennis complex is named.
“Last night on the bus ride home it kind of hit me — I mean, 34, my Lord,” said Diaz, still groggy after rolling in at nearly 2 a.m. Monday. “It’s a lot of championships and just a whole lot of guys who made it happen. And I was thinking about Coach Magill. In my mind, this was for him.”
Magill, 91, was Diaz’s coach at Georgia and Diaz served as his assistant for many years.
As it often has, Georgia’s championship came with considerable drama. The Bulldogs won the title by knocking off No. 1 seed Kentucky 4-1 in the finals. The Wildcats (26-5) handed Georgia (23-2) one of its two defeats in the regular season, so there was a bit of revenge involved. And the final score belies the competitiveness of the match. Kentucky was ahead in the two uncompleted singles competitions.
“Our previous encounter with Kentucky was a loss that really hurt,” Diaz said. “Our goal was to learn from that day. We felt like we’d had the match in hand and probably tried too hard. I think today we showed maturity, and that’s necessary to close out an important match against a very good team. This was a big moment of growth for us and proved that that loss was a turning point.”
It’s not like the Bulldogs got an easy route to the championship. They had to get by No. 9 Mississippi State — playing on its home court — in the semifinals. Georgia squeaked by 4-3 with Wil Spencer clinching the match at No. 1 singles.
“A packed house, a phenomenal atmosphere, Mississippi State playing probably some of the best tennis as a group I’ve ever seen played,” Diaz said. “We came back at the top two positions where we’ve struggled at times and came behind. We made a huge statement and I think our team is just starting to play.”
Suddenly, everything seems possible again for the Bulldogs. Not that it was ever in doubt, but Sunday’s victory — Georgia’s seventh in a row — gives them an automatic bid into next month’s NCAA tournament. They just so happen to play host to the NCAA Championships next month in Athens.
Sunday marked their first SEC tournament title since 2007 (eighth overall). That same year Georgia hosted the national championships and captured the title.
“I am so happy for the guys,” said senior Ignacio Taboada of Atlanta, who clinched the Kentucky match at No. 4 singles and was named tournament MVP. “We are peaking at the right time.”
The Bulldogs have definitely served notice. Georgia has won six national titles in men’s tennis. Five of those came when it hosted the national championships.
Here’s the scorecard from Sunday’s title match:
No. 4 Georgia 4, No. 6 Kentucky 1
1. #3 Eric Quigley (UK) def. #11 Wil Spencer (UGA) 6-1, 7-5
2. #24 KU Singh (UGA) vs. #14 Alex Musialek (UK) 3-6, 4-5, unfinished
3. #29 Sadio Doumbia (UGA) vs. #19 Anthony Rossi (UK) 2-6, 5-6, unfinished
4. #44 Ignacio Taboada (UGA) def. #76 Tom Jomby (UK) 6-3, 7-6 (7-4)
5. Nathan Pasha (UGA) def. #110 Alejandro Gomez (UK) 6-2, 6-2
6. #63 Hernus Pieters (UGA) def. #112 Panav Jha (UK) 6-1, 6-0
1. Sadio Doumbia/Hernus Pieters (UGA) vs. #12 Panav Jha/Eric Quigley (UK) 7-5, unfinished
2. Nathan Pasha/Ignacio Taboada (UGA) def. #37 Alex Musialek/Anthony Rossi (UK) 8-4
3. Wil Spencer/KU Singh (UGA) def. Tom Jomby/Alejandro Gomez (UK) 8-3
Kentucky 26-5; Georgia 23-2.
Order of finish: Doubles (3,2); Singles (6,5,1,4)