As the grandstands began to fill up and the tailgate buzzed in the heat of the afternoon, Georgia Tennis hosted its 25th NCAA Tournament. Stories of the Desperado Dogs and 1981 team, as well as the 1985 national championship, rang through the crowd as the alumni reminisced about the good years. Georgia’s Tennis history became apparent throughout the complex as young and old gathered to watch the NCAA’s for the first time in Athens since 2014. Before that, Athens seemed to be the home of the tournament as it played there 25 times since 1977.
During the Alumni tailgate, various players during the 1981-1987 era spoke about the traditions and what it means to be a Georgia Tennis alumni. Allen Miller, Bill Rogers, John Mangan, Tom Foster, and George Bezechy each gave information as to why Georgia Tennis is the winningest sport at the school.
The consensus of the group was that the 1981 team paved the way for the tennis program. The alumni mentions Dan Magill and what he did as a coach and how he helped them believe they could conquer anything. One of the interesting tidbits from the players on the 1981 team was their nicknames of the Outlaw/Desperado Dogs. The players wore cowboy boots, cowboy hats and made sure the skoal ring got people’s attention.
Bezechy said the support of the 1981 team spurned the confidence to win. Miller said the role of the Desperado Dogs got the crowds into the matches. Both Miller and Bezechy said most of the games they won were because of the crowd’s excitement.
Georgia’s Tennis success can trace back to Dan Magill playing multiple roles in the program. According to the Georgia Dogs website, Magill took on the head coaching job as well as being the secretary of the Georgia Bulldogs club and sports information director plus many more roles. Magill sold the brand of Georgia Tennis to the public and got the students and fans to buy into it. Bezechy talked about fans showing up to practice to watch, and the grandstands were full for every match.
Another interesting fact Rogers and Bezechy gave was how Magill was a primary reason the NCAA chose Georgia to host the tournament so many times. Magill got Kenny Rogers to contribute the money along with Kim Basinger, who helped fund the lights in the facilities known as The Dan Magill Tennis Complex. Bezechy talks about how no other schools had these amenities for tennis. The complex gave Georgia another element for success that continues to carry on today.
After speaking with the Alumni, seeing this team in action gave a sense of deja vu. The team is young and full of grit, and they don’t stop fighting. After a grueling day on the court No. 13, Georgia upset long-time rival No. 4 USC 4-3 to advance to the quarterfinals.
“We have a very young team,” said Georgia head coach Manuel Diaz. “We have a lot to learn, and we have a lot of improving that we are capable of doing. Coming in No. 12 and playing the No. 4, we were not the favorite. Ranking wise, we knew we were the underdog, but I believe we are capable of beating anyone in the tournament. Our mindset is to take it one at a time, put one foot in front of the other. I am confident our guys have learned and matured as the season has progressed and I know what we are capable of.”
The match didn’t look favorable for Georgia as they lost the doubles point. However, the Bulldogs win came down to the final two of the day. Jan Zielinski and Wayne Montgomery sealed Georgia’s ticket to the next round in deciding third sets.
During the doubles, Georgia and USC split at the second and third courts leaving it up to the No. 1 doubles team in the nation, Jan Zielinski, and Robert Loeb to take the point. However, the team lost in the tiebreaker 7-1.
With the crowd getting into it and chanting the cheers, the history of Georgia Tennis explained itself. Players fed off the crowd and urged the crowd to cheer after each point.
Georgia started well in the singles winning four of the six first sets. Montgomery made an impressive comeback that without the crowd behind him fueling energy into the court, he might not have come back. He trailed 5-2 in the opening set and won five straight to take it 7-5. Walker Duncan dominated at No. 5 with 6-4 and 6-1 wins to give Georgia its first point.
Reinberg’s impressive play at No. 3 helped Georgia stay in the hunt. He won 6-2 and 7-5. With Reinberg’s win, Georgia tied it at 2-2. Zielinski finished with a holding serve in the final game to win 6-7, 6-3 and 6-3. However, a couple of minutes later, Montgomery sealed Georgia’s win as he clinched the match 7-5, 6-7, and 6-2.
The winning moment for UGA Tennis! UGA defeats USC 4-3!! pic.twitter.com/rqkyNQZ3Zt
— Bulldawg Illustrated (@BD_illustrated) May 18, 2017
“The specialness of this team is that we never really doubted ourselves and we never doubted what was ahead for us,” Coach Diaz said. “And every bump that we took I felt like we learned a lot from it. I tried to make each one of those losses a learning opportunity, and I was never discouraged with our effort I just knew we weren’t quite ready to accomplish things then, but I knew our guys were ready once we got outside.”
The Georgia Bulldogs will now face off against the UCLA Bruins on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the quarterfinals with the winner advancing to the semifinals and one match closer to a coveted national title.
NCAA MEN’S TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS
Results from Round of 16
Dan Magill Tennis Complex
1. #14 Brandon Holt/ Riley Smith (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #1 Jan Zielinski/Robert Loeb (GEORGIA), 7-6(1)
2.Nick Crystal/ Laurens Verboven (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. Emil Reinberg/ Nathan Ponwith (GEORGIA), 6-3
3.Wayne Montgomery/ Walker Duncan (GEORGIA) def. Rob Bellamy/ Jack Jaede (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 6-4
1. #19 Brandon Holt (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #56 Nathan Ponwith (GEORGIA), 6-4, 6-4
2. #33 Wayne Montgomery (GEORGIA) def. Nick Crystal (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA),7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-2
3. #59 Emil Reinberg (GEORGIA) def. #88 Logan Smith (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 6-2, 7-5
4. Jan Zielinski (GEORGIA) def. Jack Jaede (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-3
5. Walker Duncan (GEORGIA) def. Thibault Forget (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 6-4, 6-1
6. Riley Smith (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. Robert Loeb (GEORGIA), 3-6, 6-4, 7-5
Order of Finish
Doubles (3,2,1) Singles (5,1,3,6,4,2)
Final Match Score
#12, (21-7) GEORGIA defeats #4, (27-6) SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA 4-3
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