Georgia was in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend to compete in the ITA National Indoor Championships and made it to the semi-finals, defeating 13th-ranked Cal and 5th-ranked Florida before falling to No. 1 and top-seeded USC. The Trojans went on to win it all by beating third-ranked Ohio State this afternoon.
While it's disappointing not to win what would have been a third national championship for indoor tennis, the team did a great job against some of the best teams in the country, including the best team in the country. And any time a weekend includes a win over the Gators, there's cause for celebration, especially when those Gators are among the top five in the sport. A few details of the Dawgs' performance at the indoor tournament are provided après le saut, below -- but first, a word or two on the upcoming schedule.
The team starts outdoor play next Monday, 27 February, against Furman at home, and the SEC schedule kicks off the following Friday, 2 March, against the more proximal USC in Columbia, SC. The conference schedule consists of a match with every other SEC member, including a rematch with Florida in Gainesville on 4 March. Tucked into the conference schedule is a home date against Ohio State on 21 March. The SEC tournament is 19-22 April in StarkVegas, and the NCAA tournament will be a fun-filled 11-28 May in beautiful and scenic Athens.
Georgia, seeded fourth for the tournament, faced the Cal Golden Bears on Friday, and swept them 4-0. The Bulldogs took the doubles point with wins at the second and third spots, both 8-4 decisions. The No. 1 spot was left unfinished in a 5-5 tie. In singles, the Dawgs took five of the first sets en route to three victories in straight sets to secure the four points necessary for the win. First, Ignacio Taboada took down Cal's Christoffer Konigsfeldt 6-3, 6-2, followed by KU Singh's win over Ben McLachlan 6-1, 6-4, with freshman Nathan Pasha's defeat of Ahmed Ismail 7-5, 6-3 clinching the team win. The remainder of singles play was left unfinished, but Sadio Doumbia held a 6-1, 5-2 lead on the No. 1 court, while Wil Spencer and Hernus Pieters were involved in closely fought contests when play was halted.
On Saturday, Georgia squared off against familiar foe Florida. For the first time this season, Georgia lost the doubles point as Florida scored wins at the Nos. 1 and 2 spots, leaving the No. 3 court tied at 8-8 when play was halted. The Dawgs fought back in singles, though, as Taboada once again finished first with his 6-1, 6-3 win over the Gators' Spencer Newman, tying the match at one point apiece. Singh next took care of business against Florent Diep 6-4, 6-3 to give Georgia a 2-1 lead. Pieters finished next with a loss to Mike Alford 7-6, 6-3, allowing the Gators to pull even again, but Spencer took his match against Nassam Slilam 7-6, 6-2 for a 3-2 Georgia lead. Pasha once again clinched fourth point and team victory with his defeat of Billy Federhofer 6-3, 7-6. Doumbia, who was on the losing end of a 6-2 first set was battling away against Florida's No. 1 player, Tripper Carleton, in a 6-6 second set when the team match was won by a 4-2 score.
Sunday's semi-finals match saw Georgia facing top-ranked and top-seeded USC. The Bulldogs again got off to a slow start in doubles, as the Trojans took the point with an 8-3 win at the 1 spot and an 8-2 win at 2. Taboada/Pasha led 7-6 on 3 when the doubles point was decided. This outing, our stellar freshman Pasha roared out to a quick start, finishing first with a win over Southern Cal's Roberto Quiroz 6-3, 6-1, tying the match at 1-1. The Trojans proved to be too much this go-round, however, as Pieters fell 6-3, 6-4 to Yannick Hanfmann; Taboada lost to Emilio Gomez 3-6, 6-2, 6-2; and Doumbia surrendered the clinching point to Steve Johnson 6-4, 7-5. (Rumors that Johnson has a 2-game handicap due to a tediously boring name are thought to be false -- I mean, seriously: Steve. Johnson.) Spencer and Singh were in their third sets when the clinching point was won at the No. 1 court, with a final score of 4-1, Trojans.
The indoor championship tournament field represents the best in intercollegiate tennis every year. There is no shame in failing to win it all. Only once (2007) has UGA taken both the ITA national indoors title and the NCAA championship in the same year. Dropping the doubles point in consecutive matches is cause for some concern, as is Wil Spencer's apparently limited play the past couple of weeks and what may be a slower-than-hoped-for recovery from some minor issues back to top form. Over all, however, it was a solid weekend for Georgia, and expectations remain justifiably high for the remainder of the season and into the postseason.
Check back for more news, including the women's Friday match in Athens against Memphis. We also are discussing another spring Dawg Sports outing to enjoy a day of Bulldog events. In 2011, several of us met up in Athens for G Day and checked out some of the other contests being played on campus that day. The photo at the top right of this post was taken from where T. Kyle King and I watched the first part of the men's tennis match against Tennessee (a 4-3 loss) following the football scrimmage and before we made the short walk to Foley Field for the baseball game against Florida (a 7-2 win). This year, it's the women who will be hosting Tennessee at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex on the same day as the G Day game, 14 April, and Ole Miss will be visiting Foley Field. Stay tuned for more information about the group outing, but save the date now.