Down 5-3 in the third set and facing a match point with the contest tied at 3-3, Georgia men’s tennis senior Austin Smith completed the Bulldogs’ dramatic 4-3 comeback victory over USC Friday evening, delivering a thrilling three-set win at the No. 1 singles court to send his team to the NCAA Quarterfinals at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center.
Smith’s heroics capped off what was a back-and-forth, come-from-behind win for a Georgia team (23-4) that was down 3-1 and facing elimination to a USC (17-7) squad that came out strong from the start. The Bulldogs will now face No. 2 overall seed North Carolina at 4 p.m. CT/5 p.m. ET on Sunday in the quarterfinal round.
“Without a doubt, that was one of the best college tennis matches I have been a part of in a long time,” head coach Manuel Diaz said. “There is really something special about this group. To be able to win four singles matches against a team the caliber of USC, and to do it with our backs against the wall, is a remarkable accomplishment. I can’t say enough about Austin Smith and what he did for us. That was high-level tennis, and I couldn’t be more proud of Austin. He has been doing this all year, and he has been our rock. It came down it him, and you have to give him all the credit.”
Georgia faced an uphill battle following losses at the No. 1 and 3 doubles courts. The Trojans came out strong, as the No. 11-ranked duo of Smith and Ben Wagland fell to USC’s 46th-ranked tandem of Nick Crystal and Laurens Verboven, 6-1. Paul Oosterbaan and Jan Zielinski were up 5-4, while Wayne Montgomery and Emil Reinberg found themselves in a tight 4-4 match at the third position. Montgomery and Reinberg could not overcome USC’s Rob Bellamy and Tanner Smith, eventually falling 6-4 to give the Trojans an early 1-0 advantage.
USC carried over the excellent start into singles play. The Trojans built a 3-1 lead, taking straight-sets wins over the Bulldogs at the No. 4 and 5 positions.
Oosterbaan and Nick Wood started the Georgia rally with a pair of impressive wins down the stretch. Oosterbaan used a tiebreaker in a 6-4, 7-6 (7) triumph to cut the lead to 3-2, before Wood bounced back from a first-set loss to claim a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory and even the match at 3-3.
With the contest all knotted up, Georgia players and fans gathered around the No. 1 court, where Smith was in a battle. The Bulldog senior came up big, fighting back a deuce point, down 5-3 in the third set to No. 23 ranked Max de Vroome, on his way to a 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-5 win.
Georgia will now prepare for a North Carolina team that is 28-4 overall and is coming off a 4-0 victory against Mississippi State on Friday.