No. 9 Alabama earns share of first SEC title with win against Georgia
ATHENS, Ga. -- Alabama came back to beat No. 8 Georgia 4-3 on Friday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex to not only hand the Bulldogs their first loss at home this season, but also to clinch at least a share of the Southeastern Conference regular-season title for the first time in program history. With the win, the Crimson Tide moves to 19-3 overall and 11-1 in league play, while the loss drops Georgia to 17-4 on the season and 10-2 against SEC opponents.
Alabama came out of the gates blazing on court Nos. 1 and 3 in doubles, using early breaks to jump in front from the start. The 10th-ranked pair of Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe dominated No. 2 Lauren Herring and Maho Kowase 8-3 which was followed up by another 8-3 decision from 52nd-ranked Emily Zabor and Luicelena Perez on court No. 3 to secure the 1-0 lead.
In singles, the momentum started to shift in Georgia's favor as the Bulldogs won four first sets and the first two matches at the top of the lineup to take a 2-1 lead. The Tide would not go away, and soon evened the match at 2-2 as Jansen, ranked 87th, topped No. 73 Lilly Kimbell on court No. 4 7-6(5), 6-1. The Bulldogs would take the lead one more time as 19th-ranked Kowase beat No. 64 Routliffe 5-7, 6-1, 6-0 on court No. 3. With Georgia in front 3-2, Alabama had to win the next two matches, which came down to two of the Tide's most tested players in pressure situations.
On court No. 5, Zabor lost her first set 6-3 and looked to be in control of the second, leading 5-3, but the Bulldogs' Kate Fuller battled her way back to force a tiebreaker. Zabor dug deep and took the set 7-6(4), which forced a pivotal third set. In that final frame, it was all Zabor as she cruised to a 6-1 win to tie the team score at 3-3 and turn the focus to her neighbor on court No. 6.
Perez, who has yet to lose an SEC singles match, dropped her first set by a score of 6-2 and was down in the second before coming back to win 6-4 and even the match and one set apiece. In the third, Georgia's Mia King led early on, but again, Perez would continue to grind out points to stay in the match. The turning point was in the ninth game of the set when Perez broke King's serve to take a 5-4 lead and position herself to serve for the win. After 10 powerful exchanges, Perez sliced a backhand into the front of King's court which she could not lift over the net, giving the Tide the victory.