Sweet 16 and Vandy next for Tennis

ATHENS - The ninth-seeded Georgia men's tennis team held off a strong rally to defeat No. 43 Texas 4-2 in the second round of the 2004 NCAA Men's Tennis Tournament Sunday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens. The Bulldogs earn a trip to the NCAA Championships for the third time in the last four years, and they will take on Vanderbilt on May 22 at the University of Tulsa in the Round of 16.

Sophomore Strahinja Bobusic gutted out a three-set victory at No. 5 singles to clinch the match and give Georgia its seventh 20-win season in the last nine years.

"That was quite exciting. I think I aged a decade," said Georgia head coach Manuel Diaz of the nearly seven-hour match. "Texas fought and fought. More than anything I am relieved. I am proud of our guys for surviving a big charge by this Texas team. I think we will be a better team because of it."

Georgia (20-5) took the early lead by winning the doubles point, but after an approximately 90-minute rain delay, singles were forced indoors due to inclement weather. That did not seem to slow down the Bulldogs, who jumped out to a 3-0 lead with singles wins at Nos. 1 and 2.

Senior Bo Hodge, playing in his last match in Athens as a Bulldog, won the first set in a tiebreak, 7-6 (5), against Antonio Ruiz, and cruised in the second set for the 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory at the top singles spot. Freshman John Isner, who did not play singles Saturday against Tennessee Tech, needed three sets to get past Jose Zarhi, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 at No. 2 singles.

The Longhorns (15-12) posted their first point of the match as Pete Stroer topped Matic Omerzel 7-6 (8), 6-7 (2), 6-2 at No. 3 singles to cut the deficit to 3-1. Omerzel was down 5-0 in the second set before winning five straight games to knot the score at 5-5. Both players held to send the set into a tiebreak, which Omerzel won 7-2. Stroer broke serve in the open game of the third set went up 4-1 en route to the victory.

After winning the first set in a tiebreak 7-6 (3), junior Matias Ormaza dropped the second set 6-4 to Jimmy Haney at No. 4 singles. The two traded early breaks in the third and deciding set, but Ormaza picked up a break in the eighth game to take a 5-3 lead. The Bulldog won the first four point, but Haney fought off three match points to break back and even the set score at 5-5. Both players held to force a third-set tiebreak. The score at tied at 3-3 at the first change over, but Haney won four of the next five points to win the tiebreak and the match 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (4), cutting the Georgia lead to a single point.

"We had a chance to close it out (at No. 4 singles), but their guy really turned it on," added Diaz. "He played aggressively. Matias had some chances, and overall he did not play a bad match."

Bobusic and freshman Ricardo Gonzalez were both the third set of their respective matches, with the Bulldogs needing one win to secure a trip to Tulsa.

Bobusic claimed an early break to lead 3-0 in the third set and fought off a break point to go ahead 4-1. The young Bulldog ripped a backhand winner for the final point, sending Georgia to the NCAA Round of 16 for the first time since 2002.

"To tell you the truth, I was dying on that last point," said an exhausted Bobusic. "I just kept on saying, 'one more ball, one more ball' and I just slapped that last ball. I saw it go in, and I was just so happy."

The final match was suspended once the outcome of the contest had been determined.

"I knew it was going to be a hard-fought match," said Texas coach Michael Center. "To beat Georgia here, I knew we had to step up and win some matches in some tight situations. I thought we had a chance to win the doubles point. We were on serve all the way at No. 3 doubles, and we gave up a break, and I think that was a pivotal match.

"Our guys stepped up and really played hard," added Center. "I was proud that we just would not come off the court. Georgia had several match points at No. 4, but we hung in there. Give Georgia credit; they beat us in the end, but we fought hard today."

Georgia will face SEC foe Vanderbilt in the NCAA Round of 16 on May 22 at the University of Tulsa. The Commodores knocked off eighth-seeded and SEC Champion Ole Miss 4-1 in second-round action in Oxford, Miss. The Bulldogs topped Vanderbilt 5-2 in Athens during the regular season.

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