Jeff Wallace didn’t know he would be assembling a doubles powerhouse when Kate Fuller and Silvia Garcia played together for the first time in January.
It started slow, with a rough first practice and a narrow first win over Troy to begin the dual match season.
But Fuller and Garcia have since gotten the hang of it — the two are now the country’s top-ranked doubles duo entering the NCAA tournament.
“The first day (we played together), I wouldn’t have seen this day,” Fuller said.
The duo has lost just twice this season, most recently against Florida when Georgia fell in the Southeastern Conference tournament final, to go along with 21 wins.
Fuller and Garcia have developed a reputation for devouring their doubles opponents consistently and quickly. One simply knows where the other will be with any given shot, serve or stroke.
Garcia covers the baseline with powerful ground strokes and forehands. Fuller makes the other teams pay with her play at the net and volleys.
It’s what makes their partnership harmonious as they’ve climbed the national rankings.
“They kind of complement each other,” said Wallace, whose team opens the NCAA tournament against Winthrop on Saturday. “They’re fun to watch. They compete hard and they’re strategies are good and they figure things out well.”
But the duo’s wins haven’t all been easy to collect.
Of the 23 matches Fuller and Garcia have played together, nine have been decided by two games or by tiebreaker in the one set, first-to-eight-games format. They suffered a 8-6 loss against Vanderbilt and a 9-8 loss to Florida in the SEC tournament. They’ve also blanked just one opponent — Kentucky’s duo of Jessica Stiles and Caitlin McGraw.
“They’ve been down in several that they’ve come back in, so they’ve shown the ability to do that,” Wallace said. “Now, they’re the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, which is so exciting for a team that just started in January.”
The confidence was a slow build for the duo despite winning 13 consecutive matches before suffering the first loss. The coaches began to take notice of the pair’s seemingly effortless ability on the tennis court.
“We just kind of started playing and kind of believing in ourselves that we could actually do a good job,” Garcia said. “We get along so well on the court.”
Fuller, a junior, has been where the freshman Garcia is.
Fuller’s freshman season, she was paired with Chelsey Gullickson, a then-junior who would go on to set the UGA record for most career combined wins with 230.
“I think we get along really good inside the court and outside the court, and Kate helps me a lot all the time,” Garcia said.
Fuller and Garcia are an anchor in doubles play for fourth-seeded Georgia (21-3). That is valuable heading into the NCAA tournament, as the doubles point proves to be crucial in tight matches.
And the duo welcomes that responsibility.
“If you can win a doubles match quickly, it’s extremely helpful to the team. I feel like we’re confident,” Fuller said. “If you can put one up there quickly or take the second point and take that (doubles) point right away, it’s a huge momentum thing going into singles.”