2006 Men's Tennis Season Review
Courtesy: Georgia Sports Communications
The University of Georgia men's tennis team recently closed the books on a historic season that ended with a run to the NCAA championship match last week in Palo Alto, Calif. Despite falling in the final, the 2006 Bulldogs posted one of the most successful campaigns in Georgia tennis history.
Georgia began the spring season with another strong effort at the SEC Indoor Tournament in January, taking home the doubles championship for the second straight year. It was an all-Bulldog final match as last year's champions, John Isner and Antonio Ruiz, took on teammates Luis Flores and Matic Omerzel. Flores and Omerzel came out on top with a 9-7 victory. Georgia also put forth a dominant effort in the singles bracket as three Bulldogs advanced to the semifinals. Omerzel topped Strahinja Bobusic in one semi, while Ruiz was forced to pull out of his with a shoulder injury. Omerzel put forth a fighting effort in his bid to win both the singles and doubles crowns, but fell just short against LSU's Ken Skupski in the final, losing 6-4, 6-4.
After winning their first four indoor dual matches and shutting out their opponents three times, the Bulldogs carried their momentum to Seattle, Wash. for the ITA Team Indoor National Championship tournament in February. The last piece of championship hardware to elude the program, Georgia captured its first Indoor title in its sixth trip to the finals, posting a 4-0 win over Pepperdine in the final match. Senior captain Strahinja Bobusic was the Bulldogs' most outstanding player at the tournament, clinching three consecutive matches. In addition to clinching the championship win, Bobusic recorded the match winner in UGA's 4-3 quarterfinal win over No. 7 UCLA and its 4-3 semifinal victory over No. 3 Illinois.
After the Indoor National Championship win, it was time for Georgia to take its 8-0 record outdoors to continue dual-match play. The Bulldogs eased through their next few matches until fifth-ranked Florida came to the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. Georgia topped the Gators by a score of 4-3 on the back of Flores' dramatic three-set win over Janne Holmia on court two in front of the largest crowd of the season. The win avenged the Dogs' 4-3 loss to UF in the 2005 SEC Tournament in Athens, and improved Georgia's record to 14-0.
Georgia went on to win its next six matches, setting themselves up to win the SEC Regular-Season Championship with just one more victory. This was no easy task however as the Bulldogs would have to attempt to beat 10th-ranked Ole Miss on its own courts in front of a large, hostile crowd. With the match tied at 3-3, Isner topped Eric Claesson in three sets at the No. 1 position, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, to lock up Georgia's 23rd SEC regular-season title. The Dogs then went on to beat Tennessee in Knoxville, completing their bid for an undefeated regular season.
Six Bulldogs earned All-SEC honors for their efforts during the season. Isner was selected as the SEC Player of the Year in addition to earning first-team honors along with Ruiz, Flores and Bobusic. Omerzel and senior captain Colin Purcell (Louisville, Ky.) earned second team recognition.
The next challenge for the Bulldogs was the SEC Tournament in Tuscaloosa, Ala. As the No. 1 seed, Georgia earned a first-round bye. In the quarterfinals, UGA downed host-team Alabama, 4-0, as the match was moved indoors due to rain. Back outdoors again for the semifinals, Georgia posted another 4-0 victory, taking down Mississippi State, setting up a rematch with Ole Miss for the SEC Tournament title. Georgia got off to a rocky start, losing the doubles point for just the second time all year and then going down 2-0 after a singles loss at the fourth position. The Bulldogs rallied back though, tying the match with singles wins by Flores and Purcell at the second and fifth slots, respectively. Ruiz then gave Georgia a 3-2 lead with a key three-set win at the third spot. Once again it was Bobusic coming through in the clutch as he posted a a 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 come-from-behind win at the sixth position to give Georgia the 4-2 tournament championship win.
The final challenge facing Diaz's squad was the NCAA Tournament. As the No. 1-seeded team, Georgia was expected to roll all the way to the finals fairly easily. The Bulldogs did just that, winning their first four matches by 4-0 scores. Hosting the first and second round matches in Athens, Georgia first defeated Furman, then knocked out Georgia Tech in the second round, punching its ticket to Palo Alto, Calif. and the NCAA Championships. The Round of 16 saw the Dogs end Notre Dame's season with a 4-0 win, followed by a shutout victory over Virginia in the quarterfinals.
Next up was 2005 NCAA Finalist and fourth-ranked Baylor, who advanced to the semifinals by downing host-school Stanford in the quarters. The Bears won the doubles point, forcing Georgia to find four singles wins in order to keep its championship dream alive. The first three came from Flores, Isner and Purcell, tying the score at 3-3. With the result resting on the No. 4 match, Omerzel stepped up his game to beat William Ward in three sets, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, thrusting Georgia into the NCAA Championship match and giving the Dogs their 30th win.
In its 11th trip to the NCAA Championship final match, No. 1 Georgia faced a rematch of the ITA Indoor Championship against No. 2 Pepperdine. This time it was the Waves' turn as they won the doubles point and then picked up three singles wins to capture their first NCAA title. After the completion of the NCAA Champions, three Bulldogs were named ITA All-Americans. Isner earned his third straight All-America appointment, making it in both singles and doubles, Ruiz was picked as a doubles player and Flores got the nod in singles. Isner was also named to the ITA Collegiate Team of the Summer.
Georgia also saw four of its singles players finish in the top 125 of the Fila ITA Collegiate Tennis Rankings. Isner was the highest ranking Bulldog, finishing No. 2 behind NCAA Champion Ben Kohlloeffel of UCLA. Flores came in at No. 20, while Bobusic finished up at No. 58 and Omerzel was No. 65. In the doubles rankings, Isner and Ruiz finished at No. 15, Bobusic and Purcell were rated No. 21 and Flores and Omerzel came in at No. 52.