COLLEGE STATION, Texas. --- The top-ranked Georgia men's tennis team needed every shot from Adam Seri, as the senior clinched the 4-2 victory against UCLA in the semifinals of the 2002 NCAA Championships at the Texas A&M Tennis Center in College Station. The Bulldogs will now play 11th-seeded Southern Cal in the championship final Tuesday evening at 7 p.m.
With Georgia (28-3) leading 3-2, Seri used acrobatic shots and pure determination to get past Erfan Djahangiri 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 at No. 5 singles to send the Bulldogs to their 10th overall NCAA final.
"(Seri) is a warrior, just an unbelievable warrior," said Georgia head coach Manuel Diaz. "He just gives 100 percent. I am so proud of him. The hardest thing for me is the moment when you're about to close out a match. That's probably the only unenjoyable part of my job. It just eats at you. I just want the best for my kids. They have fought so hard. The effort they put forth is so unbelievable.
"My hat's off to UCLA," added Diaz. "They are playing great championship tennis."
The Bulldogs and Bruins had faced each other eight previous times in NCAA tournament play since 1982 and have won three of the program's four national titles against UCLA. Although not in the championship final, Georgia once again had to go through the Bruins for a chance at the title. The ninth NCAA meeting, 14th overall, proved to be just as exciting.
For the 26th time this season, Georgia won the doubles point, this time claiming victories at Nos. 1 and 3 for the match's opening point. The 18th-ranked Bulldog pair of Matias Boeker and Bo Hodge had little trouble against the No. 1 doubles team in the country, Marcin Matkowski and Jean-Julien Rojer. Georgia won the first four games en route to an 8-2 win.
"That's the best doubles tennis I have seen (Boeker and Hodge) play all year," offered Diaz. "They have been playing great all tournament. They are just on fire right now."
On Court 3, the tandem of Lesley Joseph and Nicolas Boeker picked up a break in the eighth game to take a 4-3 lead against Alberto Francis and Rodrigo Grille. Both teams stayed on serve for the remaining of the match resulting in an 8-6 Bulldog win to clinch the doubles point.
Brandon Wagner and Seri were holding their own in the No. 2 doubles position. On serve at 5-5, UCLA broke to take a 6-5 advantage and held for a 7-5 lead. Georgia held on Wagner's serve and picked up a break to knot the score at 7-7 when play was suspended.
The Bruins tied the score at 1-1 when Rojer recorded a 6-3, 6-4 win at No. 4 singles against Joseph. It was quite a wait until the next point was decided as two courts were already in third sets and the three other matches were in simultaneous second-set tiebreaks. Both Wagner and Hodge split sets to give the semifinal contest four matches in the third and deciding set.
M. Boeker went up an early break to lead 2-1 in the first set and went on to take it 6-4 against tenth-ranked Clemens at the top singles spot. In the second set tiebreak, M. Boeker won the last three points to take the tiebreak and the match 6-4, 7-6 (6) to give Georgia a 2-1 advantage.
The Bulldogs took a 3-1 lead when N. Boeker used three sets to outlast Ketola at No. 6 singles. Boeker broke in the fifth game to go up a break at 3-2 en route to a 6-2 first-set win. After dropping the second set 6-3, the Georgia junior took a 4-1 lead and took the match with a 6-4 win in the third set.
"Nic had a tough one out there," added Diaz. "He really came through for us."
For the Bulldogs to get a chance to play for a fifth national championship, they needed one win from either Wagner at No. 2 or Seri at No. 5. Wagner was in a third set with Grilli, and Seri was battling Djahangiri in the deciding set.
With both men on serve at 3-3 on court 5, UCLA (23-5) came up with a crucial break to take a 4-3 advantage. In typical Seri fashion, a diving volley gave the Georgia senior the break he needed to get back on serve at 4-4. Seri, who had to have two bags of intravenous fluid last night due to dehydration, used a pair of aces to hold at 5-4 and won four of the next five points to break Djahangiri to clinch the match and send the Bulldogs into a championship showdown with Southern Cal.
"I came out a little bit slow in the first set," said Seri. "He was playing well and I was just a little tired. I knew it was going to come down to me, and I just wanted to leave it all out on the court. When I held at 4-4, then I knew I had a chance."
Seri also clinched the quarterfinal and semifinal matches for Georgia during the Bulldogs run to the title in 1999.
Georgia now holds a 10-4 advantage in the series history with the Bruins, including n 8-1 mark in NCAA tournament play. The Bulldogs topped UCLA to win the 1985, 1987 and 1999 NCAA Championships.
The Bulldogs will play No. 11 Southern California in the 2002 NCAA Championship final at 7 p.m. at the Texas A&M Tennis Center.
Georgia trails USC 8-9 in the series history, but have not faced the Trojans since the 2000 USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships. The Bulldogs have faced eight times in NCAA tournament play and hold a 5-3 record. Georgia faced Southern Cal six times in the eight NCAA Championships from 1984 to 1991 but have not played since the 1993 championship final.
No. 1 Georgia 4, No. 4 UCLA 2
1. (18) M. Boeker/Hodge (UGA) def. (1) Matkowski/Rojer (UCLA), 8-2
2. Wagner/Seri (UGA) vs. Clemens/Ketola (UCLA), 7-7, susp.
3. N. Boeker/Joseph (UGA) def. Francis/Grilli (UCLA), 8-6*
1. (1) Matias Boeker (UGA) def. (10) Tobias Clemens (UCLA), 6-4, 7-6 (6)
2. (25) Brandon Wagner (UGA) vs. (32) Rodrigo Grilli (UCLA), 7-6 (2),
6-7 (3), 3-5, susp
3. (22) Marcin Matkowski (UCLA) def. Bo Hodge (UGA), 7-5, 7-6 (6), 6-1
4. (86) Jean-Julien Rojer (UCLA) def. (64) Lesley Joseph (UGA), 6-3, 6-4
5. Adam Seri (UGA) def. Erfan Djahangiri (UCLA), 4-6, 6-3, 6-4*
6. Nicolas Boeker (UGA) def. Lassi Ketola (UCLA), 6-2, 3-6, 6-4
* clinched doubles point, clinched match