Georgia Outlasts Fresno State 4-2
May 20, 2004
ATHENS, Ga. - For most of the last quarter decade, the University of Georgia men's tennis team has played host to the NCAA Tournament. In that time, they have frustrated opposing coaches and players alike by using the home court to their advantage, winning four national championships and surviving many zany, late nights.
This year, the women are playing host to the NCAA's, and on Thursday against Fresno State, UGA would have made their male counterparts proud.
In a match that didn't finish until well after midnight local time, sixth-seeded Georgia survived a power outage and a change of venue to defeat Fresno State 4-2 in an NCAA Tournament round of 16 match at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga.
With the victory, host UGA (20-4) moves into the national quarterfinals to play third-seeded and fellow SEC member Vanderbilt.
Fresno State's season ends as a team with a record of 22-4, the second-most wins in program history.
"I give a lot of credit to Georgia, they are a very good team," head coach Simon Thibodeau said. "We fought them tough. I am very proud of my team."
One of the key factors of the match began to unfold during doubles, when a power outage on the stadium's top three courts forced play onto courts 4-6, where the matches continued despite only three of the four lights standards operating.
Georgia drew first blood in the doubles by winning at No. 3 when Jitka Schonfeldova and Douglas Wink took out Courtney Jantz and Vlatka Jovanovic 8-3. But moments later, 27th-ranked Jelena Pandzic and Lucia Tallo completed their schooling of Agata Cioroch and Evgenia Subbotina by a score of 8-2.
It was the 15th consecutive victory for the Bulldogs' top pair, who are 20-2 overall and will participate in the NCAA Doubles Tournament beginning Monday.
With Nos. 1 and 3 doubles split, all eyes were cast upon No. 2, where Katharina Winterhalter and Lucia Sainz were in the midst of cutting a 6-2 deficit down to 6-5. And that opened the door to what proved to be a highly controversial - and very crucial - call in the match.
With Winterhalter serving at 5-6, 40-30, all four players found themselves at next for a volley exchange. Winterhalter jammed Smith with a volley, and Smith carried the ball over to Fresno State's side of the court - an illegal shot that should have resulted in the Bulldogs' point. But the chair umpire ruled Smith's shot came in one continuous motion and was therefore legal.
Making matters worse was that Winterhalter called Smith's carried volley wide and was overruled by the chair umpire, despite the fact that the ball landed on the other side of the court from the umpire.
Visibly upset, Thibodeau, as well as Sainz and Winterhalter, pleaded their case to the chair umpire and then to tournament referee Jane Goodman. But Goodman would not overrule the call since it was based on the umpire's judgment.
Winterhalter and Sainz were broken two points later, and Shadisha Robinson served it out for an 8-5 win.
But the power problems in the stadium courts were just beginning. Shortly after the completion of doubles, all of the lights in the stadium courts went out. That forced the singles matches indoors, where Georgia, the 2004 national indoor champions, had a distinct advantage over the Bulldogs, who had only played one match all year indoors and who much prefer the slower environment found in outdoor matches.
Thibodeau, however, still was confident about his team's chances heading into singles.
"It helps to win the doubles point, sure," Thibodeau said. "But we felt good about our chances in singles."
Things looked bleak immediately for Fresno State, which fell behind by large margins at Nos. 1, 2 and 4. Most surprising was the start of the 14th-ranked Pandzic, who trailed 4-0 at No. 1 to No. 9-ranked Agata Cioroch, the two-time defending national indoor champion. But that's when the Bulldog freshman finally adapted to the quicker indoor courts and began to slice up Cioroch like a surgeon. Pandzic won 12 of the next 13 games to cruise away with a 7-5, 6-1 victory, making the dual score 1-1.
The win improved Pandzic to 24-1 this year and was her second victory over a top-10 ranked player in the five days. On Sunday, she knocked off top-ranked Raquel Kops-Jones of California 6-3, 7-5, Pandzic's second win of the year of the Cal senior.
According to Pandzic, her slow start was merely a case of getting used to playing indoors.
"I didn't really know her as a player, and I had to feel out how to play," Pandzic said. "Once I figured it out, I played better. It feels great to beat a good player, but it didn't really mean a lot since the team lost. We had a chance to win, but coming indoors hurt us. We might have had a chance if it was outdoors.
"We only practiced in here 10 minutes before our match. They play here a lot, and this was only our second match indoors all year."
Not long after Pandzic registered a victory, the Bulldogs actually took a 2-1 lead when the amazingly consistent Winterhalter won again in singles. This time, she carved up a 6-3, 6-3 win over 54th-ranked Evgenia Subbotina, who entered with an 11-0 record at No. 3. The win was the 30th of the season for Winterhalter, making her just the fifth player in program history to hit 30 victories.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there for Fresno State. At No. 2, the 32nd-ranked Robinson took out No. 102-ranked Tallo 6-1, 6-4. Then at No. 4, Jovanovic bowed out to the 108th-ranked Schonfeldova 6-2, 6-2.
The clincher came at No. 5, where 84th-ranked Natalie Frazier defeated Sainz 6-2, 6-2. At the time, Jantz at No. 6 had lost the first set.
"We just didn't seem to get any breaks today," Thibodeau said. "Everything seemed to go against us, and when you are playing Georgia at Georgia, you sometimes need a couple of breaks and to play very well. But I am truly proud of my team's effort. We competed like Bulldogs today, and it has really been a tremendous year."
Two patterns were continued with Georgia's 4-2 victory. UGA remained undefeated at home, improving to 11-0. And the Bulldogs' difficulty to win matches when they lose the doubles point popped up again. Fresno State finished the year just 1-4 when dropping the doubles.
The Bulldogs' year isn't quite over yet. The NCAA Singles and Doubles Tournament awaits. On Monday, Jelena Pandzic will begin play, and on Tuesday she and Tallo will team up in the doubles draw. Times and opponents will be announced Saturday.
#6 Georgia def. Fresno State, 4-2
Records: Fresno State (22-4); Georgia (20-4)
Records: Fresno State (22-4); Georgia (20-4)