ATHENS — For a little while there, the horrifying thought of not being able to play in the NCAA Championships while hosting them entered the minds of the Georgia Bulldogs on Sunday. But just as quickly, the No. 3-ranked and No. 2-seeded Bulldogs put that notion to rest and steamrolled Florida State in singles to advance to this week’s Round of 16.
Georgia (25-2) lost the doubles point in its second-round match against Florida State on Sunday afternoon. But in the matter of an hour it was clear the Bulldogs weren’t in mid-stumble toward a face plant. The Bulldogs quickly regained their balance and clinched victory with Wil Spencer’s 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 win at No. 1 singles.
“When you lose your doubles it kind of gets your attention,” Georgia coach Manuel Diaz said. “When that happens you either raise your level or you just kind of get a little tense and play a little scared. We didn’t do that today. We played very assertively and confidently. We showed can handle a little adversity and swing for the fences.”
That’s good news for Georgia and bad news for the other 15 teams that will descend on Athens and the Dan Magill Tennis Complex this week for the 34th NCAA Championships
The Bulldogs have won six national championships in tennis, and five of those have come when they were hosting the tournament. Georgia will open play against No. 15-ranked North Carolina (15-7) — a 4-0 winner over Tennessee on Sunday — Friday night at 7 p.m.
“They’re aiming to win a championship,” Diaz said of his squad. “We know it’s going to be tough. We know there’s a lot of great teams out there. I feel like there are five or six teams that can win the national championship, and I think we’re one of them.”
Several teams will have something to say about. Longtime tennis rival Southern Cal (29-1) is the nation’s top seed. Virginia and UCLA are loaded likewise.
But the Bulldogs are as stout as any of them. They’ve been up and down in doubles but have a singles lineup that features five players ranked among ITA’s top 60.
“We’re so deep,” said Spencer, who is tops among them at No. 11. “It gives you so much confidence, that boost, knowing that these guys are right there.”
That power was on full display Sunday when the Bulldogs snuffed out FSU’s upset hopes like a flickering cocktail light.
“We came out with a lot of conviction and played lights out in singles and that’s pretty encouraging,” Diaz said. “You face adversity like this and you really convincingly make a statement.”
Georgia’s sixth-ranked women’s tennis team got a similar scare this weekend. Two years after suffering an upset at the hands Clemson that kept them from playing in the NCAA’s when UGA hosted, the Lady Bulldogs roared back to score a 4-3 victory over those same Tigers to secure their spot for this year’s event.
Sophomore Maho Kowase clinched the win for Georgia with an amazing comeback from an 0-6 first set, 7-5, 6-1 win at No. 3 singles. An “epic battle,” coach Jeff Wallace called it.
“For her to come back and win in three sets is amazing,” Wallace said. “She’s such a hard worker and such a fighter. I couldn’t be prouder or Maho and the entire team.”