UGA thrives on home court to upset No. 4 Southern Cal to advance to NCAA quarterfinals

Georgia's Robert Loeb reacts after scoring a point during a round of 16 NCAA tournament match at the Dan McGill Tennis complex in Athens, Ga., on Thursday, May 18, 2017. (Photo/Joshua L. Jones, Athens Banner-Herald)

Georgia summoned grit and fight Thursday in the NCAA men’s tennis championships, showing it could focus on a big challenge on the court even with turmoil surrounding the program off of it.


The No. 13 seeded Bulldogs’ upset No. 4 Southern California in the round of 16 with the help of a raucous Bulldogs home crowd at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

The Bulldogs clinched the 4-3 win as it finished off the Trojans when Jan Zielinski rallied to beat Jack Jaede 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3 on court 4 and soon after South African Wayne Montgomery got the deciding point on court 2 against Nick Crystal 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-2.

“Proud of our guys the way they buckled down today under pressure, under tremendous pressure from a very good team,” said Georgia’s longtime coach Manuel Diaz, who saw his team win despite losing the doubles point.

Georgia (21-7) continued its postseason run even with the future of suspended associate head coach Bo Hodge with the program still to be determined as a police investigation continues into the possible theft and mishandling of prescription drugs. Women’s associate head coach Drake Bernstein, a former UGA player, is also suspended.

“We had a great mindset coming in, a great attitude,” Diaz said. “The atmosphere, work ethic, everybody’s in a great place.”

Southern California (27-6) was chasing its first national title since 2014 when the Trojans beat Oklahoma the last time the event was played in Athens. That was the fifth NCAA title in a six-year span for the Trojans, with three coming in the Classic City.

Georgia won the previous two years in 2007 and 2008 and stayed alive this time with Montgomery sealing the win in match he trailed 5-2 to start but said he “knuckled down” to rally to grab the first set.

“Not entirely happy with my performance, but obviously I’ll take the W,” he said. “It’s obviously wonderful and a great opportunity to play in front of such a crowd, the best crowd in college tennis. It always has been and always will be. It obviously gave me a lot of energy and a lot of confidence.”

Now the Bulldogs will need to pull another upset in the quarterfinals against No. 5 UCLA (22-5) Saturday at 4 p.m. The Bruins defeated No. 12 Texas A&M 4-1 to get there and defeated Georgia in February, 4-3.

“I believe we’re capable of beating anybody in the tournament,” Diaz said. “We just have to get our rest and try to do it again.”

Georgia beat Southern Cal in a round of 16 matchup last year as well, 4-3 in Tulsa, Okla., en route to reaching the semifinals but USC thrashed Georgia 4-0 on Feb. 5 in the Pac 12/SEC Showdown in Gainesville, Fla.

“It was a very special moment today for all of us coming back after losing that,” Zielinski said.

Diaz has seen saw growth from a lineup that includes two freshmen and three sophomores and had dropped five straight matches early in the season.

Georgia came back to share the SEC regular season title and won the league tournament and won in the opening two rounds last weekend.

Former associate coach Will Glenn stepped in for Hodge and former player Javier Garrapiz also filled in as a coach.

None of the singles matchups from the first USC match were the same due to lineup shuffles in the last few months.

“We had the matchups we wanted,” Montgomery said. “We knew we were capable of beating them. I t was just a matter of going out there and executing the plan.”

Georgia won despite losing the doubles point when the nation’s No. 1 ranked team of Zielinski and Robert Loeb fell 7-6 (1) to Brandon Holt and Riley Smith.

In singles, Georgia evened it up when Walker Duncan turned back Thibault Forget, son of former French tennis star Guy Forget, 6-4, 6-1. Duncan blew a kiss to the crowd after the win.

Southern Cal moved ahead of UGA 2-1 as Holt, the son of former two-time U.S. Open champion Tracy (Austin) Holt, won 6-4, 6-4 over Nathan Ponwith on court one, but it was quickly evened up when Emil Renberg defeated Logan Smith 6-2, 7-5 on court 3.

Southern Cal moved ahead 3-2 when Riley Smith rallied to beat freshman Loeb 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, but that lead was short lived and the match turned for the Bulldogs.

And their season rolled on into the weekend.