STARKVILLE, Miss. --- The Georgia men’s tennis team won a 4-3 thriller over Mississippi State Saturday to punch its ticket to the finals of the SEC Championships for the 14th time in 23 tries.
Georgia won the doubles point in commanding fashion before dropping four first sets in singles and eventually falling behind 3-2. Needing to win both of the remaining matches on court, junior KU Singh and senior Wil Spencer each picked up third-set victories within seconds of one another to give the second-seeded Bulldogs the slim win over host MSU at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre in Starkville. Georgia will advance to meet the winner of today’s other semifinal between No. 1 seed Kentucky and No. 5 Ole Miss tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET.
“I thought we played our best doubles of the year,” said head coach Manuel Diaz. “I was really encouraged and impressed. The guys played flawlessly, with great energy. They served and returned well, and that really set the tempo for us.”
“Sometimes you win the hard way. Today we did that and we won a great match. Mostly towards the end there, Mississippi State dictated, and with four matches left we needed to win a couple and they went ahead on two, which really put the pressure on us. Our guys – KU and Wil – both fought back from being down a set and it was just an amazing performance. They showed a lot of grit and fight, and that’s what you want in the postseason.”
Georgia was clicking on all cylinders right out of the gate in doubles, with both courts No. 2 and 3 going up early breaks within minutes and never looking back. First to get the win was the team of Singh and Spencer at No. 3, as they defeated Zach White and Ethan Wilkinson by an 8-1 score. That was followed shortly after by the win at No. 2, as Ignacio Taboada and Nathan Pasha defeated 44th-ranked Louis Cant and Malte Stropp, 8-3, to claim the doubles point for Georgia. The final match on court No. 1 went unfinished still on serve.
From there, the Bulldogs picked up a bit of insurance as the sophomore Pieters notched his ninth win in a row, going 6-0, 6-3 over White at No. 6 singles to make the team score 2-0.
But that proved to be the only straight-set score of the afternoon as the rest of the singles matches were close, with MSU winning four first sets in total to Georgia’s two and all courts ultimately splitting.
Mississippi State then pulled to within 2-1, securing its first point of the day as No. 55 Georgia Coupland defeated No. 44 Taboada, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. At that point, the remaining matches were already in their theird sets and Georgia was down breaks on three courts clinging to that 2-1 lead.
In the next completed match, the Georgia freshman Pasha lost his first singles decision since March 4 – and saw his team-best 10-match winning streak halted – as he was downed by 46th-ranked Cant, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 on court No. 5 to even the score at 2-2. That left just three courts still on to decide the match, two of which were on serve and MSU leading big on the other.
Mississippi State then took its first lead of the day at 3-2 as James Chaudry defeated Doumbia by a score of 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 at No. 3. The Bulldogs, however, held breaks on the final courts, and Singh evened things back up at 3-3 as he captured a 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3 win over Stropp on No. 2.
That left just Spencer and 10th-ranked Artem Ilyushin on court, with Ilyushin having won the pair’s previous meeting this season in straight sets in Athens. But receiving up 5-3, Spencer broke for the match at No. 1 singles to give Georgia the 4-3 win and the place in the finals.
The Bulldogs today improved to 22-2 on the season, winners of six matches in a row.
Georgia is seeking its eighth tournament title and 34th overall SEC championship. Georgia’s last tournament crown came back in 2007 before the squad went on to later win the NCAA Championships as well.
“Kentucky and Ole Miss are both tremendous teams,” Diaz said. “Kentucky had a tremendous regular season and went undefeated. They are No. 6 in the country and beat us 4-3. Ole Miss, we beat them 4-3 in a close match in Athens. They’re both great teams, so hopefully the guys will bounce back from a long match today. They showed they are in great shape and can play in the latter stages of a match. We know it’ll be a tough battle tomorrow so we’re just going to go out there and play to win.”