ATHENS, Ga. -- On a day that started with four SEC men’s tennis teams alive in the NCAA Championships, only Georgia remains to carry the conference banner in the tournament quarterfinals.
The Bulldogs overwhelmed North Carolina 4-0 Friday night before a highly partisan crowd of more than 2,300 at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
“It felt really electric,” Georgia’s Nathan Pasha said. “The crowd is so big and it provides a lot of energy, so you have to do a good job of not getting too excited with everyone out there.”
This is the first time any of Georgia’s starters have played before an NCAA championships crowd in Athens, 40 years after Georgia first hosted the event. It has since hosted the championships 30 times thanks to the efforts of longtime coach Magill, who made the event a mainstay at UGA thanks to a carnival-like atmosphere that was highly uncommon for college tennis.
The Bulldogs gave the home crowd plenty to cheer -- and their applause undulated from polite oohs when SadioDoumbia snuck in a crafty drop shot during his singles match to a loud roar when Pasha clinched the Georgia victory with a win at No. 5 singles.
“Coming in we were concerned about it. I think it affected our play just a little bit,” North Carolina coach Sam Paul said of the crowd’s presence. “Again, you want to play on this stage. This is where you want to be, so again, I don’t think it really affected us that much. Georgia just played a great match.”
Dressed in an ensemble of black shirts, shorts, socks and shoes, the Bulldogs claimed the doubles point with a win on Court 3 by KU Singh and Wil Spencer and on Court 2 by Pasha and Ignacio Taboada.
They started slowly in a few singles matches, but eventually won the first set on all six courts. Then it became a race to see which Bulldogs would close out their matches to reach the clinching fourth point.
Hernus Pieters gave Georgia a 2-0 lead by winning 6-3, 6-1 at No. 6 singles and Singh pushed the Bulldogs within one point of victory by winning 6-3, 6-1 at No. 2 singles. The Bulldogs were still up by a set in all of the remaining matches when Pasha wrapped up the victory by beating William Parker at No. 5 singles, 6-2, 6-2.
Kentucky, Florida, Ole Miss and Georgia were all among the SEC teams alive when the round of 16 started Friday, but each of the Bulldogs’ conference mates fell in matches leading up to UGA-UNC in the evening.
Stanford toppled Kentucky, Ohio State downed Florida and UCLA defeated Ole Miss, all by 4-1 margins.
Now Georgia advances to face the winner between Tulsa and Pepperdine, who played after the Bulldogs in Friday’s final match. The teams will meet Sunday at 4 p.m., with another raucous crowd expected to cheer the Bulldogs.
Georgia coach Manuel Diaz expects the electricity that accompanies the extra bodies in the stands to affect all of the players -- not just his Bulldogs.
“A lot of times the crowd just brings out the best in you as a competitor,” Diaz said. “If you’ve got the majority of the crowd with you or against you, I think this is an environment I think all schools thrive on. It’s always fun. It adds a little more meaning to everything these guys are working for and I think that’s why this is such a great venue to play tennis in.”