The UGA men’s tennis team saw its NCAA Tournament title hopes end in the Final Four Monday.
After being down 1-0 after a lost doubles point, a four-hour weather delay, a switch of venues from the outdoor courts to the indoor courts, Georgia’s 4-3 loss to No. 9 North Carolina in the semifinals of the NCAA tennis tournament came down to inches.
With the match tied at 3-3, Robert Loeb held the hopes of Georgia’s advancement in the tournament on Court 6 as he took on Bo Boyden. The two split the first two sets before forcing a decisive third set which was dueled out in the indoor courts after a four-hour weather delay.
And as much as Georgia had the momentum swinging it’s way at the beginning of the delay, by the time Boyden got up 5-3 in the third set over Loeb, much of the momentum was used up by the time Boyden defeated Loeb with a 7-6 (0), 4-6, 6-3 final score.
“We had a lot of momentum but the rain came,” Georgia head coach Manuel Diaz said. “[In the quarterfinals] it worked in our favor and we were able to maintain our momentum.”
Momentum that was lost by a few inches.
“I think [Loeb] maybe missed three balls by a total of an inch which is the difference between winning and losing that match,” Diaz said. “I don’t feel sorry for him, it’s been a great experience for him, I think it has been a great run for our team. Today, those couple shots didn’t go our way, if they do, we win that match.”
Georgia found itself in familiar territory during the semifinals match up with UNC.
For the third time throughout the tournament’s duration the No. 13 Georgia men’s tennis team found itself down 1-0 after losing the doubles point and for the second time throughout the tournament a weather delay affected the matches at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
Now previously, Georgia had found a way to win four out of the six singles match ups in its last two matches while also enduring a five hour weather delay on Saturday night’s quarterfinals match.
But history did not repeat itself on Monday afternoon.
Walker Duncan kept Georgia in the match on Court 5 with a 6-1, 7-5 win over UNC’s Jack Murray but two-set losses on Courts 2 and 3 pushed UNC to just one match under a win at 3-1.
The match came down to Court 4 and 6. Jan Zielinski took on Simon Soendergaard on Court 4 in a second set tie breaker. Soendergaard won the first set 6-3 and with the second set tied at 6-6, Zielinski was down 4-0 in the tiebreaker and against some stout odds came up with seven consecutive points to win the tiebreaker and force a decisive third set before the weather delay forced the teams off the court.
This moment on Court 4 was the momentum Georgia had over UNC.
“I just tried to stay calm,” Zielinski, who went on to win his third set 6-3 inside. “It’s a matter of taking it point-by-point-by-point, thinking nothing about how you are down 4-0. I don’t even know how but I forced a breaker.”
But Zielinski’s win wasn’t enough as UNC brushed past the Bulldogs to advance to the programs’ first national championship appearance.
Georgia, 22-8 overall, was SEC regular-season champion for the fifth year in a row, and the SEC tournament champions.
The Bulldogs made a Final Four appearance for the second year in a row and entered their last day of competition having won 19 of their last 21 matches.
All this without having to worry about losing a single player after the end of the 2017 season.
“Making Final Four right now, with such a young team, with two freshmen, three sophomores and one junior in the lineup, making Final Four is a great achievement I think,” Zielinski said. “We are going to be an even better team next year.”
Diaz echoed his player’s words following the match, saying that he has seen his team mature throughout the course of the season and sees big things for the team ahead.
“I am so proud of our guys,” Diaz said. “I saw a lot of fight not only today but in this entire tournament. We really came together as a team and improved so much through the course of the year. I think it has been a great ride, the future is very bright.”
Second-seeded Virginia took care of Ohio State in the other semifinal.
The national championship will be held on May 23 at 1 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.