Georgia winning the 1985 NCAA men's team title was a very memorable moment. (Photo by Wingate Downs)
May 17, 2017
By John Frierson
UGAAA Staff Writer
It was 45 years ago, in June 1972, that the NCAA men's tennis championships first arrived in Athens. Legendary Georgia coach Dan Magill pushed to bring the tournament to Henry Feild Stadium and turned it into one of collegiate sports' great annual events.
After the successful debut, the championships returned to Athens in 1977, and were played here for 13 straight years. Even after the NCAA started moving the event around, the championships have come back often. Counting men's, women's and the combined championships, this year marks the 32nd time the NCAAs have been held in Athens.
That's a lot of tournaments and a lot of great moments over the past 45 years. Below is a list of 10 memorable players, teams and moments, with a few words about each. Starting Thursday, I'm posting a story a day during the tournament about one of the 10 -- with each getting a more detailed review and examination, including thoughts from players and coaches that were involved.
I grew up a couple of blocks from Georgia's courts -- I was born a few days before that first NCAAs here -- and I was a ball boy for many years. I later got to watch both my brothers play in the NCAAs and I covered Georgia tennis and the NCAAs for several years for the Athens Banner-Herald. Now I write for Georgia and serve as the curator of the ITA Men's Tennis Hall of Fame.
This exercise was a nice trip down memory late. Not every big moment made this list, but here are 10 that stand out to me:
10. 1999 -- "UnderDogs" Grind Out A Title
This is my all-time favorite tournament here. Some of that may be personal -- my brother Jack was Manuel Diaz's assistant coach and it was a thrill to see him help Georgia win the title -- but few tournaments have had the drama of 1999.
Seeded 10th, the Bulldogs faced team match points against them in three of their six victories en route to the title. There was also the match against Baylor in the quarterfinals that was delayed by rain a couple of times and didn't end until around 2 a.m.
9. 2004-05 -- Stanford Women Simply Unbeatable
When Lele Forood's Stanford squad stormed through the 2004 women's tournament here, dropping just one team point on the way to winning the title and completing an undefeated season, it was easy to regard it as yet another dominant Stanford team -- with Amber Liu repeating as singles champion, as well. Unbelievably impressive, yes, but Forood's program and unbelievably impressive kind of go hand in hand.
When Forood brought the Cardinal back the next year and did the same thing, completing a second straight undefeated season with a title in Athens, well, you raised your eyebrows a bit more. Not only did Stanford repeat as champions, but the doubles final featured two Cardinal teams. And they weren't done yet.
8. 2007 -- Isner And The Undefeated Dogs
In 2006, Georgia's men went undefeated all the way up to the national championship match. Pepperdine spoiled the perfect season and the Dogs' dreams of a title.
The following year the tournament was back in Athens, and Georgia, led by senior John Isner, wasn't going to be denied. The Dogs didn't drop more than two points in a match all season, and just one in the NCAAs, to finish with the only perfect season in program history, 32-0.
7. 2012 -- Johnson, Trojans Finish Run
USC's Steve Johnson arrived in Athens in May 2012 seeking to finish off two things: help the Trojans win a fourth straight team championship and win a second straight singles title. There was also a little singles win streak happening at the time.
The Trojans did make it four in a row, something only Stanford (1995-98) had achieved in the team tournament era since 1977. And a tired and aching Johnson, he got the job done, too, joining a select group of two-time singles champions. He also closed out his career on a 72-match win streak in singles. Yes, that's a record.
6. 1972 -- What Is This Thing?
Manuel Diaz was a freshman at Georgia when the NCAAs first came to Athens. He didn't know much about it other than it was a big tournament, which is about all most anyone in town knew. Except Coach Magill, who had the vision to see what it could become.
Until 1977, the NCAAs featured just singles and doubles draws -- no team tournament -- and the school that finished with the most points based on wins was the champion. Each school could enter as many as four singles players and two doubles teams, and when the first tournament ended it was little Trinity College, from San Antonio, that came out on top, edging Stanford, 36-30.
5. A Trio Of Triple Crowns
Since the current three-pronged NCAA Championships began in 1977, with team, singles and doubles tournaments, only three players have won the "triple crown" -- and all three happened in Athens.
Stanford's Alex O'Brien was the first, in 1992, teaming with Chris Cocotos to win the doubles. Six years later, Stanford's Bob Bryan won all three, winning the doubles with his twin brother Mike. It happened again in 2001, with Georgia's Matias Boeker closing out a joyous two weeks for the hometown fans by winning the doubles with Travis Parrott.
4. 1994 -- UGA Women Win Debut
Georgia's women's team first knocked hard on the door of a NCAA championship in 1987, losing in the finals to Stanford at UCLA. The Lady Bulldogs pushed their way through in 1994, the perfect time to do it.
While the men's tournament had been a nearly annual event in Athens for nearly 20 years, 1994 was the first time that Georgia hosted the women's tournament. It was quite the debut as the Lady Dogs won a thrilling final against Stanford, 5-4, in front of more than 3,000 fans.
3. 1978 -- `Mac' Comes To Town
The NCAAs in Athens was already a big event before 1978, but things jumped a notch or two that year with the arrival of a notable Stanford freshman. John McEnroe had already reached the semifinals of Wimbledon before entering college and he was the star of the show, both for his play and, for better or worse, his conduct.
The No. 1 player on an undefeated Cardinal team, as well as the No. 1 seed in the singles and doubles (with partner Bill Maze), McEnroe always drew a crowd.
2. 1998 -- Best Season Ever
It may debated whether the 1998 Stanford team is the greatest men's team ever, and legendary Stanford coach Dick Gould, who knows more than everyone reading this combined, favors the 1963 USC squad that featured five future Hall of Famers.
There's no debate that Stanford in 1998 had the greatest season ever. The Cardinal went 28-0, which is surely impressive; more impressive still, and really much closer to mind boggling, is the fact that Stanford lost three team points all season
1. 1985 -- The Bulldogs Break Through
Led by a quartet of accomplished seniors and coaches Magill and Diaz, the 1985 Georgia Bulldogs won the program's first NCAA title in front of a packed house of more than 5,000 screaming and barking fans.
Georgia had won individual events before -- a doubles title in 1983 and Mikael Pernfors' first of back-to-back singles titles in 1984 -- but it was in 1985 that everything came together. Despite only one loss in the regular season, Georgia was the No. 6 seed in the championships. And the Dogs had to go through all three California powers to win the title.
John Frierson is the staff writer for the UGA Athletic Association and curator of the ITA Men's Tennis Hall of Fame. You can find his work at: Frierson Files. He's also on Twitter: @FriersonFiles and @ITAHallofFame.