Just like the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians had to deal with a game-changing rain delay in the 2017 World Series, so did Georgia and UCLA in the quarterfinals of the NCAA men’s tennis tournament.
OK, so probably not as dramatic as the infamous World Series rain delay, but the delay Saturday night in Athens did change the course of the match.
But it wasn’t a 17-minute delay, it was five hours of waiting.
Georgia and UCLA started the quarterfinals match at 4 p.m., and the delay began a little after 6 p.m. The match did not resume until 11 p.m., and it ended with Georgia upsetting No. 5 UCLA 4-2.
While there was no Jason Heyward pep talk, there was enough time for Georgia to head back to the hotel to shower, eat and mentally prepare for the challenge ahead.
“We just planned real well what we needed to do when we got back on the court,” Georgia coach Manuel Diaz said. “It was a matter of trying to get the guys to get to the point mentally and emotionally that they were when they left off.”
Before the delay, Georgia was down 1-0 after dropping the doubles point, but the team’s work on the singles’ court gave the Bulldogs a fighting chance against the Bruins.
Fifteen minutes after resuming the match, Wayne Montgomery on Court 2 and Walker Duncan on Court 5 gave Georgia the 2-1 lead. Montgomery defeated UCLA’s Evan Zhu 6-3, 6-4 while Duncan finished his match with Austin Rapp with a 6-3, 7-6 (2) final score.
It wasn’t long after that when Robert Loeb on Court 6 pushed Georgia even further along with a 7-6 (4), 6-2 win of his own.
Then, Jan Zielinski sealed it for Georgia, sending the team to the Final Four with a three-set win of 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
For the second time at the NCAA Tournament, Georgia found itself facing an opponent it had previously lost to during the regular season.
The Bulldogs upset No. 4 Southern Cal in the Round of 16 after losing to the team on Feb. 5. On Saturday, Georgia beat No. 5 UCLA in the quarterfinals after losing to the team one day earlier in February.
Diaz says that in itself shows the maturity of his rather young team.
“They are handling pressure situations a lot better, they are getting mentally prepared for matches, they are being more disciplined about their approach on the court,” Diaz said. “Those are things that a young team can kind of let go but we seem to be pretty locked in now, that shows maturity.”
It also didn’t hurt that a good number of Georgia faithful showed up after the delay to help the Bulldogs through the upset.
That is something that Duncan says is quite special to see.
“I think I can speak for the whole team, it was pretty awesome to see a lot of people coming in even with everyone knowing the match wasn’t going to start until 11,” Duncan said. “We are really thankful to have such dedicated fans to come out and support like that. It was really special.”
UCLA also took note of the Georgia’s home crowd support.
“There is nothing like this Georgia crowd, when you get here it is pretty ramped as far as being vocal,” UCLA coach Billy Martin said following the match.
Georgia now moves on to the Final Four of the tournament to be played, weather permitting, on Monday at noon ET against North Carolina at Dan Magill Tennis Complex.