5 things to watch during UGA’s dual-match season opener

The No. 3 Georgia men’s tennis team hosts a leg of the ITA Kickoff Weekend, playing Columbia at 1 p.m. today. The Bulldogs are fresh off of compiling a 20-7 record at the Georgia Tech Invitational last weekend.

“It was what we needed. We needed to get some matches, and the format was great,” coach Manuel Diaz said. “We find out where we are that way and some of the things that we need to do a better job of focusing on I think we really profited by it.”

Here are five things to watch out for in the dual season home opener:

NO ADVANTAGE

The ITA is experimenting with a new scoring system, which will be used through the national indoor championships next month. Doubles will be a one set, first-to-six (as opposed to eight) format with no advantage points. A tiebreaker will be played at five-all. Singles matches will remain three sets, but the tiebreaker will be played a five-all. There won’t be advantage points in singles either — at deuce-deuce, the next point wins.

LINEUP FLEXIBILITY

The Bulldogs don’t have any freshmen on their eight-man roster this season. That, coupled with the experience of the group, gives Diaz some room to play. “We got three, four guys that could play at the top of the lineup. That’s a hard thing by the coach now trying to just pick a lineup. Somebody’s got to play four, somebody’s got to play five and somebody’s got to play six,” he said. “Only one guy can play one. I wish it was not like that, but I think the strongest suit is that we’ve got a very close group of guys. They understand the importance of every point. They’re just as valuable in the middle of the lineup as they are at the top or the bottom of the lineup. We’re going to focus on totalling four wins anywhere. Our job is done as a team. We’re headed for a tough weekend, very good competition and hopefully we can continue to get better.”

PASHA’S PACE

Junior Nathan Pasha, who consistently played at No. 2 during the dual match season last year, collected the singles title at the Georgia Tech Invitational last weekend. He went 3-0, as did two teammates — Austin Smith and Garrett Brasseaux.

Pasha, an Atlanta native who compiled a 14-4 record through fall play, is ranked No. 21 heading into the spring season.

WOOD’S RETURN

Sophomore Nick Wood, who underwent ankle surgery in November, is back to 100 percent, Diaz said. He went 4-4 in singles in the fall before the surgery. “Nick Wood showed tremendous progress from his ankle surgery in November.” Wood could be a player Diaz tosses into the lineup for Georgia on a consistent basis.

SMITH’S SURGE

Sophomore Austin Smith wasn’t ranked during fall competition. But he defeated seven ranked opponents en route to a 15-5 record. That earned him the No. 12 spot in the singles ranking, making him Georgia’s highest-ranked singles player.

Rachel G. Bowers: twitter.com/abhsports

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