COLLEGE STATION, Texas. --- The top-ranked Georgia men's tennis team kept the crowd on edge as it earned a trip to the semifinals of the 2002 NCAA Championships with a 4-1 win against No. 8 Pepperdine at the Texas A&M Tennis Center in College Station. The Bulldogs will now face fourth-seeded UCLA in Monday's semifinal at 7 p.m. (CT).
"It was a tough fight all the way through," said Georgia head coach Manuel Diaz. "After an emotional win yesterday, we really got up (for this match). Our guys were very focused. We knew we had to respond with great focus and determination in order to beat this great Pepperdine team."
Georgia led 3-1 with a trio of three-set matches being played, all with the chance to clinch. For the second match in as many days, Brandon Wagner extended the Bulldogs' run through the NCAA Championship by clinching the fourth an final point, give Georgia its eighth consecutive NCAA tournament victory dating back to the 2001 Championship.
Georgia took a 1-0 lead after winning at Nos. 1 and 3 doubles to clinch the match's first point. The Bulldog duo of Lesley Joseph and Nicolas Boeker went up an early break and held on for the 8-6 win at No. 3 against Calle Hansen and Brian Wright. In a back-and-forth match at the top doubles spot, Bo Hodge and Matias Boeker, who are ranked No. 18 in the country, were battling 15th-ranked Johan Berg and Al Garland.
Hodge held serve in an emotional 14th game to knot the score at 7-7, and his fire and pumped fists after each point grabbed the momentum and got the predominately-Georgia crowd into the match. The Bulldog tandem won four of the next five points to break Pepperdine's serve, including a valiant effort by Hodge to chase down a drop shot nearly to the stands and rip it around the net post and back into play. The Waves were unable to successfully return the shot, giving Georgia an 8-7 lead and serving for the match. M. Boeker held serve for the 9-7 win to secure the doubles point.
The pair of Wagner and Adam Seri was on serve at 7-6 with Sebastian Graeff and Stefan Suter when play was suspended.
Pepperdine tied the score at 1-1 as the Waves picked up a victory at No. 3 singles, as Hansen topped Hodge in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3. N. Boeker gave Georgia the lead for good as he returned to his winning ways with a 6-4, 6-1 win against Graeff at No. 6.
The remaining four matches all went to a third set, as Georgia was fighting for a trip to the semifinals. Joseph, who dropped his first set 6-3 to Diego Acuna, shifted his game into high gear and won 12 straight games to win his match 3-6, 6-0, 6-0, and give Georgia a 3-1 advantage.
"I was not pleased with my play in the first set," said Joseph. "I thought I could play a lot better. I was making too many errors and giving him too many points. In the second set, Coach (Diaz) told me to go for it and hit my shots, and don't worry about the outcome. That's what I did. I guess the results come as long as you play your game."
"I knew at the end of the second set that Les had some momentum and had found his game," said Diaz. "
Wagner got off to a good start in singles against Suter, as the Bulldog junior earned an early break and nailed an ace to win the first set 6-2. Suter broke Wagner's serve in the 10th game to take the second set 6-4. Wagner lost serve and trailed 5-3 with Suter serving for the match. Wagner showed true Bulldog spirit and picked up a break of his own to get the match back on serve at 5-4. Wagner won the next three games, including one break, to put the match in the books with a 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 victory.
"I knew going into the match that I was comfortable playing (Suter) against his game style," Wagner said. "I went out just trying to stay with my game plan, and I did that through the first set. He is a great competitor, and he started to play a lot better in the second set. When it came to me serving at 4-5, I just rushed it a little bit, and that is all it takes to lose a set. I was frustrated for a little bit and lost my focus for a few games, but I knew that if I stayed in there that I would have a chance to come back in the match.
"When is it close and you are working to get back in the match, you have to work to make every single ball," added Wagner. "I really had to focus on every shot to make the guy play as much as I could so I could win the point, and that is what I did."
"I think Brandon did a tremendous game of adjusting, changing his game and being patient," offered Diaz. "He just lost a little patience. He was hitting the ball so well, but his opponent was countering and able to take the second set."
At the top singles spot, M. Boeker, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the country, needed only one break to take the first set 6-4 against Garland. The Pepperdine senior proved why is the No. 3 player in the nation, as he claimed the second set 6-3. M. Boeker won the first three games of the third set and was leading 5-2 when play was suspended. On Court 5 , Seri had his hands full with Berg in the third set. Beginning to suffer from dehydration and cramping, Seri was serving, up a break at 5-4, when Wagner ended the match.
"I knew Mat was going to have a dogfight with Al," added Diaz. "He is a championship player and was playing really well. Mat was showing great composure and I think he would have finished strong."
The top-seeded Bulldogs will face second-ranked and fourth-seeded UCLA in Monday's semifinals at 7 p.m. (CT). Southern Cal and Tennessee will square off in the other semifinal. The Bruins advanced to the semis with a 4-0 win against No. 12 Auburn. Georgia holds a 9-4 advantage in the series history with the Bruins, including a 6-1 mark in NCAA tournament play. The Bulldogs topped UCLA to win both the 1987 and 1999 NCAA Championships.