PALO ALTO, Calif. – The teams that own the last four men’s tennis national championships met in the NCAA final four on Monday, and Southern Cal put itself in position to claim another title with a 4-0 win against Georgia.
Winners of the last two NCAA titles – including one won last year in Athens – second-ranked USC (26-2) will face No. 1 Virginia (34-0) in today’s NCAA finals at Stanford’s Taube Tennis Center.
Georgia – which won team titles in 2007 and 2008 – finishes the season at 24-6, having reached the NCAA semifinals for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
“Overall it was just a phenomenal season,” Georgia coach Manuel Diaz said in a university release. “It’s great getting to the final four and I’m very proud of our team. I’m disappointed with the fact that we could’ve played better today, but not with our effort.”
USC won matches at Nos. 1 and 3 doubles, and was leading on Court 2, when it claimed the doubles point for a 1-0 advantage.
Georgia recovered after losing the doubles point Saturday against Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee, but was not as fortunate two days later. The Trojans built momentum with the doubles wins and quickly dispatched the sixth-ranked Bulldogs in singles to earn their 19th win in a row.
Steve Johnson, the nation’s top-ranked singles player, beat Georgia’s Wil Spencer 6-0, 6-0 at No. 1 singles. Ray Sarmiento and Daniel Nguyen followed with wins – with Sarmiento’s coming on the No. 4 court, 6-2, 6-3 over Drake Bernstein, and Nguyen’s coming at No. 3, 6-3, 6-2 over Sadio Doumbia.
The other three matches were in the second set when Nguyen clinched the victory, although the Georgia players on all three remaining courts – Javier Garrapiz at No. 2, Ignacio Taboada at No. 5 and Hernus Pieters at No. 6 – had either won a set or held a lead in the second set.
“USC was dominant in doubles,” Diaz said. “We couldn’t seem to find any traction anywhere, even though we were battling in singles. Playing behind today caught up to us in the end.”
The loss concludes Georgia’s season of team competition, but three Bulldogs still have individual competition ahead.
Garrapiz, Spencer and Doumbia will compete in the NCAA singles competition, while Garrapiz and Pieters – the nation’s sixth-ranked doubles pairing – will compete in doubles. The individual tournament will begin on Wednesday in Palo Alto.
USC, meanwhile, will play a Virginia team that has entered each of the last four NCAA tournaments as the top seed, but has yet to play in the finals until this year.
“To finally reach the finals feels good,” Virginia senior Michael Shabaz said after the Cavaliers beat No. 4 Ohio State 4-2 on Monday. “USC has had a lot of success but we are not worried. We have the guys who can win the match and we’re going for it.”
The Trojans haven’t entered the championships with the same accolades, but they’ve taken the title back to Los Angeles in each of the last two years. They’ll go for No. 3 today.
“We seem to fly under the radar,” said Johnson, who won his 28th consecutive match by beating Spencer. “It sure seems like Virginia or Tennessee has always been the favorite. This is a fantastic team. Different guys are stepping up every day.”
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