Georgia's Tennis opens NCAAs w/ Florida

ATHENS – It's the kind of team every Georgia fan dreams of – an undefeated juggernaut, loaded with talent from top to bottom, not just beating but embarrassing opponents, possibly one of the best in the sport's history.

Granted, if most Bulldog fans had their choice, that description would fit the football team instead of the men's tennis team, but they'll have to take what they can get.

Georgia's men (28-0) are ranked No. 1 in the country and the overwhelming favorite to win the NCAA Championships, which start today at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens. The Bulldogs will face Florida at 6 p.m. as the sixteen remaining teams in the men's tournament will be in action.

The women's championships also are being held in Athens, and Georgia's women are seeded second. The women's team (23-1) will play No. 15 seed William & Mary on Friday at 6 p.m. at the Magill Complex.

Former Stanford coach Dick Gould, the sport's all-time winningest coach, is looking forward to seeing the Bulldog men's team up close, he said.

"I hear it's one of the better teams of all-time," Gould said. ">From what they've done so far, if they win the championship, that team would have to be up there."

And there, it is: if they win the championship. The assumed inevitability of that accomplishment has started to weigh on Georgia coach Manuel Diaz, who is seeking his third national title in 19 years as coach.

"I kind of mumbled a few things the other day to (former coach Dan) Magill, ‘We've done so well; we've won the national indoors now for the second year; we've had a second straight undefeated regular season. It's going to be hard to bear if we don't win,'" Diaz said. "I was kind of just saying, ‘What if we don't?' It was one of those moments where for the first time I verbalized: ‘What if?'"

Georgia also was the tournament favorite last year, but then-senior Strahinja Bobusic was lost to a wrist injury during it first-round match against Notre Dame, and the Bulldogs fell 4-2 to Pepperdine in the championship match. That memory still stings this team, Diaz said, but Magill told him to brush those thoughts aside.

"He said, ‘You know what? Nobody can take away from you what you guys have done up to this point,'" Diaz said. "And we did have a great year last year. That we lost in the finals of the NCAA the way we did, it hurt, but it didn't take away from the phenomenal year we had."

The year's team is headlined by senior John Isner (37-4), who is the No. 1 player in collegiate tennis and teams with Luis Flores to make up the nation's top-ranked doubles team. According to Magill, Isner is the best all-around player ever at a school that has three back-to-back individual national champions had 37 All-Americans.

(The men's and women's individual tournaments will begin in Athens on Wednesday, one day after both team titles are decided.)

Only three teams have managed to win two matches against Georgia this year, which shut out 17 opponents this year. The Bulldogs beat Ohio State, Baylor and Virginia, who are seeded Nos. 2, 3 and 4 here this week, by a combined score of 15-2 during the regular season.

"It's definitely one of the best teams of all-time," Magill said.

Diaz can't help but be unnerved by that kind of talk.

"That adds a whole lot of pressure," he said. "The game is not over yet. All I can tell you is this team has been asked to do a whole lot of things, and they've been there every single time out."

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