May 24, 2010

By Andy Johnston
Special to

ATHENS, Ga. - If there was one thing Davey Sandgren wanted to do before he left Tennessee, it was to win at Georgia before a "packed house."

Scratch that off his bucket list.

Sandgren and the Volunteers advanced to the NCAA Division I men's tennis final with a 4-1 victory over Georgia on Monday, in front of 2,817 fans who were well-versed at turning matches into barkfests at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

"I really wanted to beat Georgia," said Sandgren, a senior who defeated Will Reynolds 6-4, 6-3 at No. 6 singles. "I enjoyed every minute of it and I'm glad we won. I'm very happy."

Second-seeded Tennessee (31-1) will meet defending champion and fifth-seeded Southern California (24-3) for the national title at 6 p.m. Tuesday. ESPNU will televise the match live.

The Trojans defeated top-seeded Virginia, 4-2, in the other semifinal.

"I think (Southern California) has been the favorites in my head every year," Tennessee coach Sam Winterbotham said. "They are the returning champs with nearly everyone back. (USC coach) Peter (Smith) knew his team was one of the group that could win it, and we knew that we were one that could win it."

It was only the third win ever in Athens for Tennessee, which hasn't lost since dropping a 4-1 decision to Virginia on Feb. 15.

Against Georgia, the Volunteers won a grueling doubles point as two matches went to tiebreakers.

Georgia's Javier Garrapiz and Nate Schnugg won 9-8 (6) over J.P. Smith and Sandgren at the top spot, but Tennessee's Rhyne Williams and Boris Conkic clinched the point with a 9-8 (2) victory over Jamie Hunt and Christian Vitulli.

"From a fan's perspective, (the doubles point) was fantastic," Winterbotham said. "From a coach's perspective, I was thinking, 'OK, here we go.' It goes back to the fact that that team doesn't quit."

After Sandgren defeated Reynolds at No. 6 singles to give the Volunteers a 2-0 lead, Garrapiz cut the advantage with a victory over Smith, the nation's top-ranked singles player.

Matteo Fago increased the Volunteers' lead to 3-1 with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Christian Vitulli at No. 5 singles.

Georgia's Drake Bernstein then double-faulted at No. 4 singles, to give Tennessee's Tennys Sandgren, a freshman, a 6-0, 4-6, 6-4 clinching victory.

"It's great to pull it out there and clinch, but it would have been nice to get off there quick," Tennys said. "The crowd was brutal."

The 11th-seeded Bulldogs (21-8) struggled late in the year, losing two consecutive matches to end the regular season before falling to Auburn in the Southeastern Conference tournament. They had to rally to defeat Florida State 4-3 at home in the second round of the NCAA tournament before knocking off Florida and Oklahoma in the past two rounds, riding their fans' support.

"I think we had a great tournament. I think we had it in us," Georgia coach Manuel Diaz said. "We came into our own."

Southern California 4, Virginia 2: Southern California earned a return trip to the final when Daniel Nguyen clinched the victory with a 7-6 (9), 6-4 victory at No. 4 singles.

The Trojans, who have won five NCAA team titles, won the doubles point and then captured singles victories at Nos. 1 and 6 before Nguyen finished off Virginia's Drew Courtney.

"A big part of winning the championship is rolling with the punches and overcoming obstacles, and we've done a good job of that so far," Southern California coach Peter Smith said. "For us, there is more pressure because there are more expectations. It's always about us though, and we need to take care of our business."

Top-seeded Virginia (39-2) hadn't lost since Feb. 6.

When you look back at the years, there's a large amount of time and effort that people don't see," Virginia coach Brian Boland said. "We've worked very hard to get to this point. Although I thought we were able to respond well, USC played a great match and beat us. They're a very good team and they beat us. We left it all out on the court."