Legge: Georgia Tennis now better than ever

ATHENS – Ripping your t-shirt off is not usually part of the post-match hand shake in tennis.

But it became so more than one year ago. Florida's emotional 4-3 win over Georgia in 2005 might have been the most painful loss for the tennis program I've seen in my time around Athens.

Against Florida (a team the Bulldogs had narrowly lost to a few weeks earlier) in the semifinals of the 2005 SEC Tournament, Georgia was made to witness their arch rivals celebrating on their home court – a very painful event.

Sitting and watching the Gator champ in any situation is a tough thing for any red-blooded Georgia fan to watch (even at a tennis match). But the Gator champ thrown in with Florida's Ryan Sherry ripping his shirt off after clinching the match was sophomoric and sad, but served as motivation for this year's team.

Georgia tennis has had a lot of highs on Henry Field Stadium's courts. They've clinched too many SEC titles to count on these courts, and have won all four of their national titles here.

But that moment - when Sherry so very acted like a child - was the lowest of the lows, and it was the last time these Dawgs lost at home.

"That was our goal for this season - to win and avenge that loss to Florida on our home courts," said Georgia's number one player John Isner. "I think we did that. Here we are number one in the country and they are not even hoisting a regional. I think we know who got the best of them."

Georgia beat the Gators 4-3 earlier this season in Athens - the Dawgs did not go topless after the win.

The t-shirt-tearing loss served as motivation for this season's Dawgs. I didn't know it at the time, but with that loss I was watching the birth of the most powerful Georgia tennis team I've ever seen, and that's really saying something because there have been a lot of good ones. That loss factored into what Georgia's team has become a year later - the best team in school history.

"I don't think we'll know that until after the NCAAs," Isner said, not yet certain of my assertion.

Head Coach Manuel Diaz, who had guided this program to four national titles - two as the head coach and two as the assistant - wasn't ready to proclaim these Dawgs the best yet, either.

"We have five more matches before I can answer that question," he said before a long pause. "But it will be up there if we do."

Most of the readers in the .com world don't concern themselves with what Georgia does on the tennis court – fine.

It does need to be pointed out, however, that what those people are missing this spring is the most dominant team in the history of one of the most dominant sports at Georgia.

This is the best overall tennis team Georgia has ever had. Players on the team won't talk about it, and their head coach won't admit it, but it's true. The most superstitious of the Bulldog nation would be worried that I may be "jinxing" these Dawgs, but they are too good to be jinxed.

Consider that Georgia is undefeated (26-0), and has come close to losing only three times this season (Furman stood no chance today, and Georgia Tech won't get in the way tomorrow).

They shut an opponent out for the 13th time this season with their 4-0 win over Furman today. They are the number one overall seed in the NCAAs, and swept number two seed Pepperdine 4-0 earlier this season. Georgia rolled through its SEC schedule by outscoring its opponents 72-16 – the best mark of any conference team since the SEC started back up its SEC Tournament in 1990.

Good tennis teams have to win at the bottom of the line up, or at spots four through six. That has been the key to Georgia's dominance of the SEC over the last three decades (the Bulldogs have 29 SEC titles). While Georgia's bottom three slots have combined for a 53-13 record this season, the Dawgs at the top of the line up actually have a better combined mark – 58-10. Georgia's number two position has not lost this season; amazing.

Even more astounding is Georgia's lock on the all-important doubles point. The Dawgs have won 23 of a possible 25 doubles points. Considering that and the dominance of Georgia's one, two and five positions there's little doubt about why Georgia has rolled through 2006 the way they have.

I have even less doubt that Georgia will continue to roll through the NCAA Tournament on the way to the program's fifth overall title. And when they do no t-shirts will be shreded in the process - just the opposition.

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