After a great first half of the day in Tulsa we were treated to a gem in the evening as Georgia and USC went toe-to-toe for the better part of three hours. USC came into the round of 16 with the worst doubles winning percentage (.409) out of the teams still left in the field but that didn’t stop them from getting off to a quick start against Georgia.
USC’s No. 1 team of Nick Crystal and Laurens Verboven opened the match by holding on the deciding point to take a 1-0 lead and then they’d break Austin Smith to go up 2-0. Crystal held for 3-0 before Ben Wagland finally put Georgia on the board with a hold for 1-3. Verboven held on the deciding point for 4-1 and then USC broke Austin Smith on the deciding point to go up 5-1. Crystal went up 40-15 on his next service game but had to hit a service winner on the deciding point to win it 6-1.
USC also started off well at No. 2 as Max de Vroome and Thibault Forget broke Paul Oosterbaan on the deciding point to take the early 1-0 lead. USC maintained the break lead until de Vroome was broke from 30-40 to even it at 3-3.
The match at No. 3 stayed on serve until USC’s Jack Jaede and Tanner Smith broke Emil Reinberg from 30-40 to go up 5-4. On the 30-40 point Reinberg called USC’s shot deep however the chair disagreed and overruled the call. Tanner Smith would serve it out from 40-15 to give USC the 6-4 win and thus the early 1-0 lead.
USC rode the momentum from the doubles point and jumped on Georgia in singles by going up breaks on five of six courts (No. 1 was the exception).
USC freshman Jack Jaede held to start his match at No. 5 and then Georgia freshman Jan Zielinski donated a break by double faulting on the deciding point to make it 2-0 (Zielinski trailed 0-40 and battled back to 40-40 before the DF). Zielinski broke back at love to make it 2-1 however Jaede broke back and then held for 4-1. Jaede would come from 30-40 down to take the opening set 6-3 after Zielinski pushed this backhand well long on the deciding point.
Jaede went up a break in the second at 3-2 when he broke Zielinski on the deciding point and he’d break again to go up 5-2. Jaede quickly served it out from 40-15 to take it 6-3, 6-2 and extend USC’s lead to 2-0. The official box score showed this match finished after #2 singles but it beat that one to the finish line by at least 90 seconds.
Georgia’s Wayne Montgomery double faulted the break to Nick Crystal to start the match at No. 2 however he’d win the next seven games to take the opening set 6-1 and go up an early break in the second set at 1-0. Crystal would get the match back on serve however Montgomery would break from 30-40 to go up 5-4 when Crystal sprayed a forehand wide. Montgomery would serve it out on the deciding point to win it 6-1, 6-4 to pull Georgia to within 2-1.
USC sophomore Thibault Forget would put the Trojans ahead 3-1 after holding on to defeat Georgia freshman Walker Duncan at No. 4 singles. Forget broke Duncan to start the match and then broke him again to go up 3-0 in the opening frame. Forget would maintain the two break lead and hold on the deciding point to take the first set 6-2. Forget quickly jumped out to a break lead in the second set and he’d eventually serve for the match up 5-4. Duncan would break on the deciding point when Forget netted a forehand much to the delight of the Georgia faithful (couldn’t avoid the fence in these clips).
Duncan held to go up 6-5, which I believe was his first lead all match, and then Forget would send it to a tiebreak by holding for 6-6. Duncan went ahead 3-1 in the tiebreak but Forget would win the next three to go up 4-3. Duncan hit a service winner and then an ace to go up 5-4. Duncan looked like he’d go up 6-4 but he badly mishit an overhead off the frame to make it 5-5. A Forget forehand winner made it 6-5 but Duncan got a service winner to even it at 6-6. Forget went ahead 7-6 with a nice backhand crosscourt winner and then he’d win it on the next point when a Duncan forehand caught the tape and kicked just wide.
Georgia may have been down 3-1 but they weren’t out of it yet because Paul Oosterbaan had a set lead at No. 3 and Nick Wood was up a break in the third at No. 6 while Austin Smith and Max de Vroome were just starting a third set at No. 1.
Wood dropped the opening set to USC’s Rob Bellamy 6-4 (Bellamy served for it at 5-2 before serving it out from 5-4) and then went a break down in the second at 2-1. Wood would then win the next 10 games to take the second set 6-2 and go up 5-0 in the third. Bellamy held for 1-5 but Wood served it out to trim the USC lead to 3-2 (no video because both No. 3 and No. 4 were in tiebreaks a few courts away).
Oosterbaan came back from a break down to take the opening set 6-4 and then he broke Logan Smith to go up 3-2 in the second. Oosterbaan held for 4-2 but Smith held, broke, and held to go up 5-4. The set would go to a tiebreak with Oosterbaan leading 4-2 at the first changeover. Smith would take four of the next five points to go up 6-5 and then it looked like he had the set won but he pushed a volley just wide to make it 6-6 (Smith went for the line while Oosterbaan was on the opposite side of the court). Oosterbaan took the next point to go up 7-6 and he had a chance to serve it out but he mis-hit an overhead from the center of the court to make it 7-7. Oosterbaan would close it out two points later when Smith sent a forehand long and the match was now tied at 3-3.
So the stage was set for a dramatic finish with Georgia senior Austin Smith and USC senior Max de Vroome playing a third set for all the marbles. Smith had taken the opening set 7-6(5) before de Vroome rolled to a 6-1 second set. The third set stayed on serve until de Vroome broke Smith on the deciding point to go up 4-3.
De Vroome came back from 15-30 down to hold for 5-3 and then Smith held for 4-5 after de Vroome sent a forehand long at 40-30. Smith went up 15-40 on de Vroome’s service but Max got it back to the deciding point which was now also a match point. Smith would hit an aggressive backhand which forced a de Vroome error and it was back on serve at 5-5 (clip below is the full service game)
Smith fell behind 30-40 on his 5-5 service game but a service winner brought up the deciding point. Smith would hit a big forehand down the line which forced de Vroome’s backhand to sail long and it was now 6-5 (video starts with Smith serving at 30-all)
Smith went up 15-40 on de Vroome’s serve and then clinched when Max wasn’t able to pick up a low volley at the net. It was truely a great finish to a great match with both players slugging it out. The first clip is de Vroome’s final service game starting at 0-15 and all the clips below that are from different angles courtesy of both Georgia and the NCAA.
5. Jack Jaede (Southern California) def. Jan Zielinski (Georgia), 6-3, 6-4
6. Nick Wood (Georgia) def. Rob Bellamy (Southern California), 4-6, 6-2, 6-1
Order of Finish: 5, 2, 4, 6, 3, 1
Georgia Head Coach Manuel Diaz
“One of the best tennis matches I have been involved with in a long time. I couldn’t have asked our guys to give anymore. That was a great USC team that took us to the woodshed in doubles play, but we competed hard. I didn’t think we played a poor doubles point though. You got to give them (USC) credit though, because they put us in a position where it came down to our guys fighting and trying to establish a little bit of momentum. With a few matches here and there we just kind of got back in it. That was a tremendous performance from both players in the No. 1 singles position. That was high-level tennis, and I couldn’t be prouder of Austin. He has been doing this all year, and he has been our rock. It came down it him, and you got to give him all the credit.
On Austin Smith’s play…
“He has certainly been one of our tri-captains. While we know that we have six guys out there that can win at any spot, but I think that Austin has been a tremendous steady point for us. He has taken on our opponents’ best player every time, and he has learned so much this year. He has learned to embrace the difficult moments even when things aren’t going his way while maintaining a positive attitude. The willingness to play big when the moment called for him is just a testament to the great player that he has become.
Austin Smith, Georgia (#1 singles)
On what was going on in his head being down 5-3 and then scoring 4 straight to win it…
“At one point I was thinking that this could be my last match ever with the team, with the team that I love and that I would do anything for and I just decided I was going to do everything in my power to keep us going and I didn’t want it to be my last match. I just gave it my all and I feel like things clicked for me. I started serve receiving really well and time just let instincts take over. Towards the end I wasn’t really thinking that much.
On whether or not there was a turning point in the match…
“Not really, obviously when he is serving 5-3 on a deuce point it is obvious that if I lose that point it is over, so that is definitely a turning point, but even then there was a deuce point the next game. Every single game was neck and neck, he played an unbelievable match and I am at a loss for words right now. I am just happy to be through.
Southern California Head Coach Peter Smith
Comments on the match…
“I think with matches like that you have this overwhelming sense of being a part of something that is bigger than you. It’s such a great rivalry between UGA (Georgia) and us (Southern California). To play that quality of a match for three and half hours, you really feel like its a honor and privilege to be a part of it. It hurts to lose, but it was just a great match. It ends with our two best players, who are seniors, who have had such successful careers, going out. You just feel sorry that you had to lose it, but they played a great match and that’s the way sports go.
The last match of the evening was expected to be on of the better ones but Oklahoma didn’t mess around and absolutely floored Wake Forest 4-0. Wake had taken both of the regular season meetings but that was without OU’s Andrew Harris in the singles lineup.
Wake took the doubles point in both of the previous meetings but Oklahoma would get on Friday with a 6-2 win at No. 1 and a 6-4 win at No. 2.
Oklahoma won all six first sets in singles and Andrew Harris, Spencer Papa, and Alex Ghilea would each win in straights with Harris breaking Skander Mansouri to clinch it at No. 1.
5. Florin Bragusi (Oklahoma) vs. Christian Seraphim (Wake Forest), 6-4, 4-4 DNF
6. Andre Biro (Oklahoma) vs. Dennis Uspensky (Wake Forest), 6-4, 5-1 DNF
Order of Finish: 4, 3, 1
Oklahoma Head Coach John Roddick
“I’d like to congratulate Wake Forrest on the season they had after winning the ACC tournament. They have been an impressive team, and obviously they beat us twice but we didn’t have this guy (Andrew Harris) in the line-up. Andrew, being in the line-up, changes the complexion of the match, and I think every coach knows that. When he (Andrew) is in the line-up it takes a lot of pressure off a lot of guys because everyone can nudge down one spot in the line-up. Our guys had to battle a lot of the year with out him, and we played a little higher than what we wanted. We lost a lot of matches that way, but over the course of time it helps your guys get tougher and it tests them. We got a good idea of who is playing well right now and who to play, and I think that is the big difference between winning and losing the match.
On the attitude of the team…
“It doesn’t get easier, and maybe with success sometimes it gets harder because guys get complacent and comfortable. We have had a long year battling injures, and we have had a lot of things to deal with as a team. It doesn’t get easier just because you are in the finals. If you have a bullseye on your back and if you are complacent you a target and people will take you out. It’s not something that we think just because we were there once or twice that we will be there again. It’s a different year and a different tournament and we have to play well.
On the leadership of the team…
“We have been focused as a team for a little while now. That’s the one thing that I feel is out of a coach’s control. By nature coaches are control freaks. Your guys have to be leaders and you have to have internal team control that does not come from the top, and I think it’s something that we have found and our guys are doing better with it. We played the best match that we have played all year tonight, and so it’s coming together right now. Our guys had long talks together and I probably wasn’t at all of them and some of them probably weren’t pleasant. That’s how you grow as a team. I’m proud of the team for coming together, better later than never.
Andrew Harris, Oklahoma (#1 singles)
On what this win does for him…
“I feel amazing. I felt so much relief after I won that match point. It’s been a very tough year for me, because my knee has been injured a while. I came back from that knee injury and played a few matches then I injured my groin a little bit. It’s just been very frustrating so this win gives me a lot of confidence going into my next match against UCLA.
On the leadership of the team…
“We lost two great players last year, and they left a bit of a hole to fill but like coach said we have had a lot of meetings without the coaches. We definitely come out better after it, and we understand each other better. We are playing better as a team, and it’s much better compared to the start of the year.
On playing close to Norman…
“I was surprised at how many people turned out. We had more fans here than we did at our home matches so it was definitely nice. It was really great support.
Wake Forest Head Coach Tony Bresky
Comments on the match and playing Oklahoma for a third time this season…
“It’s the third time we’ve played them (Oklahoma), obviously, congrats to them, they totally out-played us. The scoreboard says it wasn’t close. They played great. Obviously an experienced and tough team, congrats to them.
Did the pro-Oklahoma environment have any affect on your team’s play…
“No, not really. They’re fans were very cordial. We have played at more hostile environments. I think their play probably had a lot to do with how we played.
6. Maciek Romanowicz (Stanford) def. Joseph Di Giulio (UCLA), 6-3, 7-6
Order of Finish: 1, 2, 3, 6, 4
UCLA Head Coach Billy Martin
“We have had so many great battles with Stanford, and unfortunately in my era we have been on the down turn on a lot of them. It’s always good to get a win here, especially in the first round no matter who it’s against. I was particularly worried about this match, because it was our fourth time to play Stanford this year. I always feel like we were kind of spreading it thin trying to get a team four times in one year. I couldn’t help but to reflect back to 1996 when we were undefeated going into the finals to of the NCAA’s when we played a Stanford team that we beat three times earlier in the season, but we lost to them in the finals. As superstitious as I am I could only sort of reflect back to that moment. I didn’t tell anybody about this until now, but that has been bothering me and I am glad we got over the hump. I think that the first round here was really to acclimate, because the lights were difficult on those back courts and we really haven’t had much practice time. I think that we will play a little bit better next time. I am not sure if we are playing Wake Forrest or Oklahoma, but whoever we play we have got a really tough match on our hands.
Karue Sell, UCLA (#4 singles)
On his singles match…
“He started by serving me really well, but I was kind of adjusting to the lights. I couldn’t really see the ball for the first five or six games. Whenever he tossed the ball up to serve I couldn’t really see the ball so it kind of turned into a guessing game. He came out fired up and playing really well. I just played him in a match a couple weeks ago and it was a much easier match, but this time he played pretty well. I just wanted to hang in there and try not to give him too much comfort because he was ripping the ball. I was feeling the ball well for the most part, but a couple points went his way in the first set and he ended up winning that set. I was still confident I could get the win coming into the second set, and I started playing better and moving the ball better. In the third set I just kind of rolled, and so it ended up being a pretty good first match and first round.
Stanford Head Coach Paul Goldstein
Comments on the match…
“It’s a difficult, emotional thing, that our season has come to an end. We had ups and downs as a team, but as we gathered as a team in September we talked about playing our best tennis in May and I think we accomplished that as team. We lost to a team today that clearly had our number. That’s the fourth time they’ve beaten us this year, we won the doubles point all four times. I’m proud of those guys for being able to do that. They (UCLA) proved again today that they were the superior team on the singles court, but we got better, we competed better today than we did three weeks ago at the Pac 12 Conference Championships, in which we won the doubles point and basically then got smoked in singles. But today we didn’t get smoked at all. It was close across the board. I feel for my senior Nolan (Paige) there, he played his heart out in his last match. We couldn’t get him a win today. I am pleased we got better. That’s good group of young men there that I’m very proud to be associated with. I’m happy for our seniors, who got a chance to be in the round of sixteen for the first time in their career. The words that were said in that huddle there after the match as we gathered as a team are very special to me. That’s very much why I do the job, I feel very privileged to be associated with these guys.
North Carolina played without one of its starters but still managed to post a 4-0 shutout over Mississippi State. UNC’s Robert Kelly who plays at No. 1 doubles and No. 5 singles sat out with a minor injury but his teammates were able to pick up the slack.
UNC’s No. 2 and No. 3 doubles teams moved up a spot and both were able to pull through with Brayden Schnur and Jack Murray clinching the point with a 7-6(5) win at No. 1.
UNC took four opening sets in singles and Brayden Schnur, Brett Clark, and Jack Murray would win in straight sets with Murray clinching it at No. 4.
2. #54 Rishab Agarwal (Mississippi State) vs. #28 Ronnie Schneider (North Carolina), 7-5, 3-4 DNF
3. #46 Brett Clark (North Carolina) def. #70 Nuno Borges (Mississippi State), 6-4, 6-4
4. Jack Murray (North Carolina) def. Niclas Braun (Mississippi State), 6-4, 6-3
5. Strahinja Rakic (Mississippi State) vs. Anu Kodali (North Carolina), 6-4, 6-5 DNF
6. Blaine Boyden (North Carolina) vs. Luka Sucevic (Mississippi State), 6-3, 5-5 DNF
Order of Finish: 1, 3, 4
North Carolina Head Coach Sam Paul
“First of all congratulations to Matt. I know he lost four players from last year’s team and to make it here is tremendous by him. They had a great year. I think the doubles point was critical for us to gain some momentum going into singles. Brett, as he has done his entire career, stepped up and got us on the board real quickly. That’s a really good win for him, and Jack played the best singles match he has played all year. We look forward to moving on.
On coming into the tournament as the No. 2-ranked team…
“We learned a lot because we were No. 1 in the country for about five or six weeks, and I think our team grew a lot during that period. We definitely felt like we had a target, but I felt we have settled in and started playing better tennis towards the end of the year. We played better in the ACC tournament, and even though we lost to Virginia I thought we played really well there. I think that we have learned to take one match at a time, and we are not really talking about the rankings. We are just worried about taking care of business on the court that day.
Brett Clark, North Carolina (#4 singles)
“On whether winning the first single gives momentum to the rest of the team…
“Definitely, I think all first sets are big on any court. It is nice when the matches are decided by a few points here and there to get quick wins if you can. I thought the whole team did good, doubles were good and we got a lot of great starts on a lot of courts and our off court guys did a good job of letting us know that the momentum was headed our way. I took a lot of positive from that. I just tried to do the best that I could do and focus on my court.
On whether or not he feels like the team was a target or an aggressor coming into this tournament…
“Obviously after winning national indoors the whole country was out to get us because we had a great start to the year and we talked about it as a team, a bunch. It was a little uncharted water for us but we were so excited to be there and be in those big matches. I think exactly what coach said, once we got settled and then realized what we could do to hopefully jump on opponents and have that little intimidation factor to start matches I think we used that really well throughout the ACC season and hopefully we can keep going.
On “jumping on the opponent today…
“That has been the game plan the whole NCAA tournament, to win the first 15 minutes of doubles and singles. We had a good start against Tulane and now again here, that is exactly what we are trying to do with the teams. It’s good.
Mississippi State Head Coach Matt Roberts
Comments on the match…
“First of all, I’m very proud of the way the guys handled themselves the character they exude, the sportsmanship, the way they compete, they way they compete as a team. The way they keep it all about tennis and nothing personal, where sometimes you see these other guys do that. I’m just proud of the way they carried themselves, first of all, and they did a great job tonight. It just came down to not closing out the doubles point. We had great opportunities there, give North Carolina credit, they kept competing and played big in the big moments in doubles. It put our back up against the wall going into singles, but we’ve done it a lot this year. We’ve been battling through that 0-1 deficit a lot this year and we come out successful. But, singles were a lot of deuce deciding points, we didn’t capitalize on. I think they won more deuce deciding points than us and that usually comes down to a little more belief I think. We are kind of new at this stage and it’s great for us as young as we are to get to this stage this quick. Hopefully, we can make it to National Indoors, these high level events, so then we feel like we deserve to win a little more in these big moments and North Carolina played those moments better than us today. North Carolina is well coached, they are a great team, and they’re going to do great in the tournament I’m sure. It’s just really a good experience for our guys. It stings. We’re going to keep are heads high.
Florida advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinals for the first time since 2005 with a 4-0 win over SMU. The Gators took the doubles point when Chase Perez-Blanco and Alfredo Perez won the decider 7-6(2) at No. 3.
Florida took four opening sets in singles and Chase Perez-Blanco, Gordon Watson, and McClain Kessler each won in straight sets with Perez-Blanco clinching at No. 4.
5. Gordon Watson (Florida) def. Yates Johnson (SMU), 6-2, 6-2
6. McClain Kessler (Florida) def. Tony Russell (SMU), 6-3, 6-0
Order of Finish: 5, 6, 4
Florida Head Coach Bryan Shelton
“I thought we came out and played well. Hats off to SMU. I think they had a great season. Obviously, we knew it would be a tough match being in the round of 16 with everybody in this tournament being so good. I am really proud of our guys even with the delay today I thought our preparation was great and we came out with great energy. Doubles as usual was pretty crucial for us and I felt like we won two hard fought sets out there in the No. 1 and No. 3 positions, which kind of set the tone for the rest of the match. I also felt we did a really nice job of after the doubles point coming out really strong in singles. We won four out of the first six sets, and we were able to close it out really well. I am just really proud of our guys. We obviously played well at the No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 positions.
On coming out strong in the doubles point…
“We always want to focus on holding the serve, and I felt like we did a really nice job of that. I don’t know if we ever got broken on the No. 1 or No. 3 courts. On the No. 1 court we served second so we were always down a game, which can be a lot of pressure especially when you are deep in those sets when you are serving to stay in the match. I felt like we handled that situation really well. Obviously I have a lot of trust in our players to make plays out there on the court. Chase (Perez-Blanco) and Alfredo (Perez) won so many matches this season, and I think that in those moments we don’t panic and we just stay in there and hang tough. I think that is the difference sometimes between winning and losing.
On Gordon Watson’s play…
“He is feeling it. I have always said he is one of the most dangerous players in college tennis when he is in good form as he is right now. We watch him day in and day out and the guy comes up with something special every single day. He is moving so well, and his movement puts a lot of pres- sure on opponents. He is also serving well and hitting his spots, and he can hang in from the back and he can slice and dice you. He knows the front part of the court really well, and he is a smart player who knows how to make other guys feel uncomfortable. Gordon (Watson) is very confident right now, and all those things add up for trouble for the other guy most of the time. Just really pleased with him and how he is playing and leading. I think he is playing like an All-American senior for sure.
Chase Perez-Blanco, Florida (#4 singles)
On keeping mentally focused through the delay…
“It’s tough when you are sitting around all day. We really didn’t know when we were going to play we just knew we were going to play after Ohio State and Texas. We just got loose, and then we cooled down and warmed up again. We always try to be ready to play when called upon, and good at that today.
On his singles play…
“I thought I played really well. My opponent played really good as well, and he was really solid off the baseline so my goal was just to make a lot of balls and be aggressive. I thought I did that today. Also, I didn’t get on the defensive side that much, which really allowed me to attack and move forward in the court.
On the resiliency of the team…
“We all have confidence in each other so it doesn’t matter who is going to clinch it. It just happened to be me today, and it was my time to clinch. It could have been anyone. Everyone is confident in each other, and we believe we can pull it out.
SMU Head Coach Carl Neufeld
Cooment on the match…
“I am very excited and proud of our team, our teams improvement through the semester and the year in general. I feel like we are playing our best tennis right now at the end. Florida is a very good team and their record shows how good they are with their SEC championship at the end and their improvements towards the end of the season. The backbone of the team is doubles and they had very good doubles and I thought that was very important, they played great. I felt like we took a little hit and it gave them that boost that they needed in confidence and it took a little gas away from us but they are a very good team. I don’t know that we would have beat them or could’ve beat them, but I know that if we would’ve won the doubles it would have been a lot more interesting. I am sure they can beat any team that is here and we will see as the tournament falls. I am very proud of our team’s improvement and that is what our main goal is at that beginning of the year, to play the best at the end and we certainly saw that based on our record.