STARKVILLE, Miss. --- The Georgia men’s tennis team captured its 34th Southeastern Conference title and eighth tournament crown Sunday, defeating the No. 1 seed and sixth-ranked Kentucky 4-1 in the finals at Mississippi State’s A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre in Starkville.
The win moved the Bulldogs to 23-2 on the season and the squad has now won seven matches in a row heading into next month’s NCAA Tournament. Today marked Georgia’s first SEC tournament title since 2007 as Georgia went on to win the national championship later that season in Athens.
Georgia this weekend registered two wins over top-10 opponents after also knocking off No. 9 Mississippi State in the semifinals yesterday. The Bulldogs were able to respond after falling 4-3 to Kentucky during the regular season in Athens, which proved to cost Georgia the regular-season title as UK finished at 11-0 and UGA 10-1.
“Our previous encounter with Kentucky was a loss that really hurt,” said head coach Manuel Diaz. “Our goal was to learn from that day. We felt like we’d had the match in hand and probably tried too hard. I think today we showed maturity, and that’s necessary to close out an important match against a very good team. This was a big moment of growth for us and proved that that loss was a turning point. It put us in a position to win today because this time we knew how to handle it. That’s the biggest thing I take from this.”
Georgia’s doubles play was again dominant on the day, as Georgia went up breaks on all courts early on. The Bulldogs won first on No. 3 doubles as the team of Wil Spencer and KU Singh defeated Tom Jomby and Anthony Rossi, 8-4. The Bulldogs then picked up the doubles point with their second win, going 8-4 at No. 2 as Nathan Pasha and Ignacio Taboada beat 37th-ranked Alex Musialek and Anthony Rossi. The match at No. 1 went unfinished with Sadio Doumbia and Hernus Pieters up 7-5 at No. 1 on 12th-ranked Panav Jha and Eric Quigley.
The sophomore Pieters completed his stellar weekend with a third victory, dropping just five games all tournament as he put Georgia up 2-0 with a 6-1, 6-0 win over 112th-ranked Jha at No. 6 singles. Georgia built a 3-0 lead as the freshman Pasha defeated No. 110 Alejandro Gomez, 6-2, 6-2, at No. 5.
But UK would respond to make it 3-1 as third-ranked Quigley won on court No. 1, downing No. 11 Spencer, 6-1, 7-5.
That left courts 2, 3, and 4 still on court, with Taboada closest to finishing as he had a set on Jomby and the second set headed to a tiebreaker. It was a rematch of that court during the teams’ prior meeting, when Jomby beat Taboada in a breaker to clinch the match for Kentucky. But this time Taboada prevailed, claiming the tiebreaker 7-4 to take the match 6-3, 7-6(4) and seal the 4-1 win for the Bulldogs.
“It means so much,” Taboada said. “I was trying not to think about last match too much. I thought about it a little bit in the last two points, but I just tried to play good points. It was a total team effort today. We played great doubles again. It was unbelievable. I am so happy for the guys. We are peaking at the right time.”
After the match it was announced that Pieters and Taboada were named to the All-Tournament Team, while Taboada was named the Most Valuable Player.
SEC Men's Tennis All-Tournament Team
Hernus Pieters, Georgia
Ignacio Toboada, Georgia
Tom Jomby, Kentucky
Anthony Rossi, Kentucky
Nik Scholtz, Ole Miss
George Coupland, Mississippi State
MVP: Ignacio Toboada, Georgia