The fifth-ranked Georgia women’s tennis team defeated No. 3 North Carolina, 4-3, on the last remaining court in a third-set tiebreaker to win the 2019 ITA National Team Indoor Championship Tuesday afternoon at the Nordstrom Tennis Center.
The Bulldogs’ (7-0) run to the title started with a sweep in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend two weeks ago and continued the past five days with victories over No. 14 NC State, No. 2 Vanderbilt, No. 1 Stanford, and now No. 3 North Carolina (9-1). The latter was against the defending indoor champions and redemption from the 2015 ITA Indoors final in which the Tar Heels prevailed.
The Georgia women’s tennis program contains now four USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships and two NCAA Championships (1994, 2000). The 2019 squad joins members of the 1994, 1995, and 2002 teams in winning the National Indoors.
“It is exciting,” Georgia head coach Jeff Wallace said. “I’m really proud of this team, the coaches, and the support staff that was here. It was a total team effort, which makes it really special. Drake [Bernstein – Associate Head Coach] and I spent a lot of time talking to the team about the importance of supporting each other and being a true team and then to see them pull together like they have and lift each other up in tough situations and comeback in these tough matches that we are able to get in close fashion – really, really says a lot.”
Like a script, the last remaining point to determine a championship occurred on the first court between the two teams’ highest-ranked singles players. The matchup between Georgia’s No. 2-ranked Katarina Jokic, the defending ITA National Indoor Singles Champion, and sixth-ranked Makenna Jones did not disappoint and it also served as a rematch for the Tar Heel came out on top in the fall’s ITA Riviera All-American Championships.
By the time the team score was knotted at 3-all, Jokic and Jones were deadlocked at 5-all in the third set. The two players broke each other’s serve to send the decider into the tiebreaker. In the tiebreaker, Jokic obtained the commanding lead when she broke back-to-back Jones’ serves and then held to go up 5-1. Three games later, the rest of the Georgia squad overwhelmed Jokic as the match point from Jones sailed out. Jokic prevailed 6-7(3), 7-5, 7-6(2) for the national championship clinch. The sophomore is 16-2 with 13 ranked wins this season.
The matchup on court one received the lasting highlight, but dominant straight-set wins from Elena Christofi and Meg Kowalski put Georgia on the board first, and then a third-set Vivian Wolff victory inched the Bulldogs one point away from the championship. Even prior to Jokic’s clinch, junior Marta Gonzalez was entangled in back-to-back tiebreakers in the second and third sets, but ultimately lost which sent all attention to court one.
One of the most impressive parts of Georgia’s championship run was that it was done exclusively in singles. Doubles against the Wolfpack was bypassed for speed of play, but the Bulldogs went into singles behind in the last three matches and still won.
Today, the Tar Heels had firm control of doubles, despite Georgia’s No. 3 doubles team of Jokic and Kowalski defeating Sara Daavettila and Alee Sanford, 6-1, in the first court to finish.
“We have some work to do in doubles – no doubt,” Wallace added. “But our singles is just a bunch of fighters. It is all about next point and playing forward. It is just some great tennis if you let things go and realize your team needs you, your university needs you. That was what our theme was when we talked prior to the match. Winning championships is fun and you want to do it together, but at the same time it is bigger than us, it is for the University of Georgia. I thought they really bought in and competed the way you want them to compete.”
The two teams split the first sets in singles as Chrisofi, Kowalski, and Gonzalez represented Georgia’s. Christofi, a junior from Athens, Greece, was the first singles court to conclude, defeating UNC senior Jessie Aney, 6-2, 6-2. Next, Kowalski, ranked No. 84, held off No. 104 Alee Sanford in a second set tiebreaker to win, 6-2, 7-6(3). Christofi upped her overall record to 9-5, while Kowalski, a freshman from Chicago, kept her unblemished record at 11-0.
The Tar Heels notched a win on court three with No. 7 Alex Graham besting No. 102 Lourdes Carle, 6-0, 5-7, 6-2 to tie the match at 2-all. Carle, a freshman from Daireaux, Argentina, was down 2-5 in the second set, before winning five-straight games to force the third.
Next, Wolff, ranked No. 58, dispatched No. 20 Cameron Morra, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 for the 3-2 Georgia lead. Wolff, Jokic and Carle each responded after losing the first set by taking second sets.
With the team score at 3-2, it appeared as though Gonzalez, ranked No. 10, was going to close it out, but No. 15 Sara Daavettila won four-straight games to even it at 5-all in the third set and then won out in the tiebreaker for final score, 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(3). The conclusion of court two set the table for the Jokic/Jones battle.
More from Head Coach Jeff Wallace:
On the finish…
“It looked like Marta [Gonzalez] was going to get it done. She even had team match point, and Kat [Jokic] wasn’t playing at the level that she is accustomed to like yesterday and earlier in the match. She [Jokic] got down 2-5, and suddenly Marta doesn’t close it out and gets beat in the tiebreaker. Then Kat got that look in her eye and I know that look. When she gets that look, it is ‘Wow’. She started playing some tennis at a whole new level and ended up taking that tiebreaker decisively. I’m excited for her and the whole group. She [Jokic] went undefeated the whole week and so did Meg [Kowalski]. It was a complete team effort with different matches at different times. Elena [Christofi] stepped it up today and had a great win, but also she came back from 5-0 to keep the championship alive against Vanderbilt. It is just really exciting. Vivian [Wolff] played some high level tennis today and yesterday. Lourdes [Carle] against Vandy was the clinch match, so we needed it from everybody this past week.”
On the team…
“I’m super, super proud of our team in what they were able to accomplish. The season is early and young and there is a lot of work to be done, but we are looking forward to enjoying this one for sure.”
#2 Katarina Jokic (UGA) def. #6 Makenna Jones (UNC), 6-7(3), 7-5,7-6(2)
#15 Sara Daavettila (UNC) def. #10 Marta Gonzalez (UGA), 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(3)
#7 Alexa Graham (UNC) def. #102 Lourdes Carle (UGA), 6-0, 5-7, 6-2
#58 Vivian Wolff (UGA) def. #20 Cameron Morra (UNC), 4-6, 6-3,6-2
Elena Christofi (UGA) def. Jessie Aney (UNC), 6-2, 6-2
#84 Meg Kowalski (UGA) def. #104 Alee Sanford (UNC), 6-2, 7-6(3)
Order of Finish: 5,6,3,4,2,1
Aney/Graham (UNC) def. Wolff/Carle (UGA), 6-1
#5 Jones/Morra (UNC) def. Coppoc/Christofi (UGA), 6-2
Jokic/Kowalski (UGA) def. Daavettila/Sanford (UNC), 6-1
Order of Finish: 3,1,2