Henry Field Crowd Looms for Roddick, OU

ATHENS – It was nearly 2 AM and Oklahoma head coach and former Georgia star John Roddick was fighting back tears.

The first-year head coach just witnessed the Sooners' stunning upset of hated rival Texas in the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tennis Tournament, which is being held in Athens this week.

The Sooners have never had a season like this, and Roddick deserves the lion's share of credit for it.

But the Sooners won their fight with #3 Texas on the McWhorter Courts, which are isolated and away from the large and intimidating crowd that gathers at the Henry Field Stadium for Georgia matches. The Sooners and Dawgs will play at 5 PM Sunday with a NCAA Semifinal bid on the line and a vocal crowd expected.

During his playing days in the late 1990s Roddick ruled those courts. His giant chest poking out… Roddick was a fan favorite and might have been the best overall player of that time for the Dawgs. If nothing else, he was certainly the most feisty tennis player in red and black. He played with fearless command and an aggressive attitude.

But for the first time ever Roddick enters his old home as the foe… the bad guy. The crowd that loved him so much for so many years will be pulling for Georgia to move one step closer to another NCAA crown.

"At least I will know what to expect, but I'm not playing," he admitted with a laugh after the late-night win over the Longhorns.

The advantage that is Henry Field never seems to get old for the Dawgs. Georgia's upset of Florida, a team it fell to twice during the season, was unquestionably fueled by the crowd's dislike for the Dawgs' most-hated foe.

"I am sure our guys were energized with being home in front of the fans. They were able to play a little better when we played them in Gainesville. When you play in front of your fans you want to give your best, and I think we did that today," head coach Manuel Diaz said following Georgia's win Friday night.

The crowd's effect is hard to argue. It can also be hard to get used to – even for the Dawgs.

"There are times when (guys around me) hit great shots and the crowd erupts, and I am in the middle of a backhand," Georgia's Nate Schnugg said. "But that comes with the territory… I like it."

"When you hear the crowd going crazy on the top court it is hard not to notice it," Drake Bernstein, Georgia's #4 player said. "It can be a distraction."

Bernstein should know. He's the player closest to the noise without it being right on top of him. The crowd can erupt at any time, and he hears it more than any other player at the bottom of Georgia's lineup because of the geography of the court he plays on in relation to the top three courts. The magic of the top three courts has been spilling over onto Bernstein's court of late as his latest two wins have pushed the Dawgs to this point in the NCAAs.

Schnugg even admits to peeking at the looming red and black scoreboard during his match to see just what's happening on the other courts.

"I am too nosy not to look at it – good or bad. I have done is for four years I am not going to stop now," he said with a chuckle.

In fact, Schnugg and fellow senior Jamie Hunt might not be at Georgia if it were not for Roddick suggesting they take a hard look at Georgia five years ago when they both attended Roddick's elite academy for juniors called Roddick Total Tennis.

"What a day it will be win or lose," Roddick said. "It's emotional for me. If you have told me that this would have happened in June… it is crazy."


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