Georgia Tennis wins 2006 SEC Title

OXFORD, MS – The No. 1-ranked University of Georgia men's tennis team (21-0, 10-0 SEC) clinched sole possession of its 23rd Southeastern Conference regular-season championship on Sunday with 4-3 win at No. 10 Ole Miss (17-4, 7-3 SEC). The regular-season championship is Georgia's first since 2002. Including its five SEC Tournament crowns, UGA now owns 28 total SEC titles.

Georgia appropriately got the match and title-clinching win off the racquet of junior John Isner (Greensboro, N.C.) as the nation's No. 2-ranked player picked up his 19th consecutive victory, defeating 27th-ranked Eric Claesson in three sets, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3. Georgia's win also snapped the Rebels' 31-match home winning streak.

"This was a great victory and a terrific performance by our guys," said Georgia head coach Manuel Diaz. "I knew that's what it was going to take to beat a team like Ole Miss on its home courts in front of a huge crowd, with the outright conference championship on the line. We played great doubles and for a while it looked like we would run away with the match. Flores and Purcell did a great job to get us that 3-0 lead, then Isner came up with a huge third-set effort to put it away for us."

With the match tied at 3-3, Isner stepped up his play in the third set. After going up a break to begin the set and taking a 2-0 lead, Isner allowed Claesson to break back, making the score 2-1. Isner then broke Claesson again and held his own serve to take a commanding 4-1 lead, going up two breaks and maintaining control over the match. Claesson refused to go quietly though, holding serve in the sixth game and cutting Isner's lead to 4-2. Isner then held his serve once again in game seven, taking a 5-2 lead. Claesson staved off the six-foot, nine-inch Isner in game eight with another service hold, slicing his advantage to 5-3. Finally, Isner proved that he belongs at the top of the ITA National Singles Rankings, as he held serve and won the next game to finish off the match and lock up the SEC title for Diaz's Dogs.

"We were up 3-0 but then they slowly started to shift the momentum," said Isner. "They won on court six, then on court four. So it was down to me on court one and Tony (Antonio Ruiz) on court three and those courts are right next to each other, so the whole crowd was there. (Ruiz's opponent) was very vocal and when he won, the place went nuts and then all eyes were on my court. I just felt that if I went out and played my game I could get it done. I knew I had to find a way to stop Ole Miss' momentum and getting that first service break did that. Even though he broke back in the next game, the pressure was still on him, I just won the rest of my service games and held on from there."

For the 20th time in 21 tries this season, Georgia jumped out to a 1-0 lead to begin the match by winning the crucial doubles point. The Bulldogs' 23rd-ranked duo of sophomore Luis Flores (Xalapa, Mexico) and junior Matic Omerzel (Kranj, Slovenia) was first off the court, registering an 8-5 win over Bram ten Berge and Juan Pablo Di Cesare in the second doubles slot. Georgia's 12th-ranked tandem of Isner and senior tri-captain Antonio Ruiz (Monterrey, Mexico) then clinched the point as they won their fifth match in a row, posting an 8-4 victory over the Rebels' eighth-ranked Eric Claesson and Erling Tveit at the top spot. The third doubles match was suspended with Georgia's senior tri-captain team of Strahinja Bobusic (Perth, Australia) and Colin Purcell (Louisville, Ky.) leading Ole Miss' Robbye Poole and Jakob Klaeson, 7-6.

In singles action, 23rd-ranked Flores stretched the Georgia lead to 2-0 as he eased past 17th-ranked Tveit at the second singles spot, 6-1, 6-2, extending his personal unbeaten streak to nine matches. Next up was Purcell, who easily won his 14th consecutive singles match, 6-3, 6-2, downing Poole at the fifth position, making it a 3-0 Bulldog advantage.

"Luis played by far the best he has all year," said Diaz. "He dominated Erling Tveit and that is not an easy thing to do. Right now I feel that we have two No. 1 players, I have felt that way all season. He was just tremendous in the way he played today. Colin also played an unbelievable match, he won convincingly and he continues to impress."

Despite trailing the Dogs 0-3, Ole Miss was not ready to throw in the towel. The Rebels' 69th-ranked Di Cesare fought off Ruiz in a second-set tiebreaker to extend their No. 3 singles match into three sets. Moments later, Klaeson gave the Rebels their first point of the afternoon with a 6-3, 7-6 win over No. 50 Bobusic at the sixth singles spot, cutting the Bulldog lead to 3-1. No. 2-ranked Isner then had his first opportunity to clinch the match for the Dogs at the top singles position, but Claesson followed Di Cesare's lead as he too kept the Bulldogs at bay with a second-set tiebreak-win to force a third set. Georgia's lead was then knocked down to just one, as ten Berge took down No. 61 Omerzel in the fourth slot, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-0. Di Cesare went on to take the third set from Ruiz to win by a score of 3-6, 7-6, 6-3, tying the match at 3-3 before Isner took down Claesson for the match winner.

"Despite winning, I'm still a little disappointed in a couple of the matches that we lost," said Diaz. "A couple of the guys have to play better than they are. That being said, we could never have accomplished what we have without every one of them this year. I also have to say that Antonio played a great match in defeat. I think he is getting closer and closer to playing way he is capable of and that is very encouraging.

Georgia will finish out regular-season play in Knoxville on Saturday, April 15 as the Bulldogs take on Tennessee at 2 p.m. EST.

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