No. 3 Georgia women’s tennis seeks another NCAA title shot

Georgia after a match against Alabama at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga., on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Georgia after a match against Alabama at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga., on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

Credit: Tony Walsh

Credit: Tony Walsh

ATHENS – The Georgia women’s tennis team is 17-1 and undefeated in SEC play (13-0), winning both the regular season and tournament championships. Its only loss was 4-3 to No. 1-ranked North Carolina.

So why, then, were the Lady Bulldogs a No. 3 seed when the NCAA Tennis Tournament seedings were released Monday night?

The answer is that Georgia wasn’t the only team with such a resume. In fact, Texas (25-1) also has but a single defeat all season, and it also came 4-3 at the hands of the No. 1-ranked and undefeated Tar Heels (26-0). In the case of the Longhorns, their match was in the finals of the ITA National Indoors Championship in February.

Georgia did not participate in that event this year. The Bulldogs’ loss to North Carolina came in January on its home courts in Athens. But it could not have been any closer of a match.

The Tar Heels finally clinched it in a third-set tiebreaker at No. 5 singles, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (7-5).

Which brings us back to the NCAA Outdoor Championships. The tournament gets under way this weekend with regionals across the country. Both the Georgia women and men will be hosting first-round matches in the NCAA Athens Regional.

The Bulldogs advancing from here is pretty much a foregone conclusion. It will require a win over Austin Peay on Friday (1 p.m., Dan Magill Tennis Complex) and defeating the winner between Furman and Wake Forest on Saturday.

The real fun will start when Georgia gets to the championship rounds at the USTA National Campus in Orlando on May 16-28. Both Georgia and Texas will be looking for revenge against the Tar Heels. But they’ll have to get by each other first.

“I personally think it’s a three-team race,” said Colette Lewis, who blogs about junior and college tennis on her ZooTennis website. “I will be shocked if the champion isn’t one of those three.”

North Carolina (26-0) obviously is going to be very tough to beat, as it was all season. But the Tar Heels have never won an outdoor national championship in tennis. Meanwhile, Georgia has won two and currently is fielding its best team in years.

Of course, 35-year head coach Jeff Wallace, who led the Bulldogs to national titles in 1994 and 2000, is not looking past the first week’s challenges.

“It’s always such an exciting time for everyone around the country when the NCAA draw comes out,” Wallace said. “We’re just really pumped to be hosting. With the year, how everything has happened with COVID, you didn’t really know what was going to happen as far as hosting. So, first for us, it’s just great to be able to play a couple more matches at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. We’ve got some good teams coming to our regional. We just have to get ready for this. Practices have been going great and our goal now is to advance and get to Orlando.”

Georgia women received an NCAA bid for the 34th consecutive year, with an all-time tournament record of 84-31. The 2021 season marks the 10th consecutive year the Bulldog women have earned a host position for the first and second rounds of the tournament. UGA women have produced three NCAA singles champions three times: Lisa Spain (1984), Angela Lettiere (1994) and Chelsey Gullickson (2010).

Coach Manny Diaz’s men’s team also received a berth into the tournament. The Bulldogs (14-6, 8-4 SEC) – who are making their 37th consecutive appearance and 42nd overall in the NCAA Tournament – drew East Tennessee State for their first-round match Saturday and the winner will face the victor of the Virginia Tech-Texas Tech match Sunday.

“We’ve got a great regional,” Diaz said. “There are tough teams that we haven’t played all year. Our challenge is to be our best, and that is what we are working towards. It will be great to see our guys compete at home one more time, so we are excited about being able to be in front of our fans again.”

This is not as powerful a team as is typical of the Bulldogs’ men’s tennis program. Georgia’s men have won six NCAA national championships (1985, 1987, 1999, 2001, 2007 and 2008), while a Bulldog has won the singles national title four times (Mikael Pernfors in 1984 and 1985; Matias Boeker in 2001 and 2002). Georgia’s players have claimed doubles titles on three occasions: Ola Malmqvist and Allen Miller in 1983, Boeker and Travis Parrott, and John Isner and Antonio Ruiz in 2005.

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