May 23, 2010

By Andy Johnston
Special to

ATHENS, Ga. - The last point seemed to go on forever. Every time Georgia's Javier Garrapiz grabbed the advantage, Oklahoma's Andrei Daescu tied it.

Back and forth they went, until Daescu's bid for another tie went wide, giving Garrapiz the victory at No. 1 singles and the Bulldogs a berth in the semifinals of the NCAA Men's Tennis Championships with a 4-0 victory over the Sooners on Sunday.

"I've been telling these guys, and they're probably a little bit tired of me saying it, that we hadn't played our best," Georgia coach Manuel Diaz said. "I knew our best was still ahead of us. They're proving me right."

Garrapiz had five match points before he finally forced Daescu into a mistake, giving him the 6-4, 6-2 victory and pleasing a majority of the 2,140 fans, who were in full bark at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. They'll surely return in greater numbers for 11th-seeded Georgia's semifinal showdown against second-seeded Tennessee (30-1) at 5 p.m. (EDT) Monday.

Virginia and Southern California will meet in the other semifinal at 4 p.m.

"We're playing good. With this crowd, it's unbelievable," Garrapiz said. "We just feel now that we can win this. We're just ready to work tomorrow. We're ready to fight again."

There was plenty of sentimentality for Diaz and Oklahoma coach John Roddick. He was a four-time All-American for Diaz at Georgia from 1995-98 and was an assistant from 2000-02, leaving to run the Roddick Total Tennis Academy and coach his brother Andy on the pro tour.

He enjoyed the enthusiastic Georgia fans as a player and coach, but might have had trouble describing the atmosphere to the Sooners, who had never reached the Round of 16 until this year. They upset third-seeded Texas on Friday to advance to the quarterfinals.

"It doesn't do us any good when I know what to expect," Roddick said. "I can talk to them about it, but until they've got to experience it, it doesn't do them a whole lot of good. The crowd is loud. I guess when you're wearing the red and black you don't notice how loud it is until you're hearing them cheer against you. It was louder than I remember. It was loud."

The fans grew more vocal as the match progressed because Georgia jumped out to a 1-0 lead after doubles and then quickly went up 3-0 when Drake Bernstein defeated David Pultr 6-2, 6-3 at No. 4 singles and Jamie Hunt knocked off Costin Paval 6-2, 6-1 at No. 3.

"I'm just having fun, and when I'm having fun, I play my best tennis," Hunt said. "I told the guys, with this crowd, I feel unbeatable. Our team feels unbeatable. With that kind of crowd support we're just playing very inspired tennis."

From there, it was a race between Garrapiz and teammate Nate Schnugg at No. 2 singles to see who could finish off their opponents and the Sooners (19-8).

Garrapiz won, giving the Bulldogs (21-7) a chance to avenge a 6-1 loss at Tennessee on April 17. The Volunteers defeated Baylor 4-0 in the quarterfinals on Sunday to run their winning streak to 20 since losing to Virginia on Feb. 15.

The Bulldogs have won four straight since suffering through a three-match losing streak to end the regular season and Southeastern Conference Tournament.

"I don't know what's going to happen (Monday)," Diaz said. "I don't have a crystal ball, but I like the way we're playing. We're playing well. We're playing our best tennis. We're going to try to keep the level of tennis we've played in this tournament. That's our goal."