Nashville, Tn April 18, 2014
By HAROLD HUGGINS
Within seconds of his match clinching win, Vanderbilt’s Rhys Johnson found himself mobbed by delirious teammates on Court 4.
Johnson had just won a three-set decision over Ben Wagland at No. 4 singles to finish off a stunning 4-2 victory over top seed Georgia Friday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the SEC Men’s tennis tournament.
Just afterwards, Johnson was hugged by members of a team which was celebrating easily Vanderbilt’s biggest win of the season and one of its top ones in a decade.
“I’m ecstatic, that (being mobbed by teammates) was an unbelievable feeling,” Johnson, a sophomore from Perth, Australia, said. “That for sure was the biggest win for me since I’ve been at Vanderbilt.”
“Our team had been talking about it (a win over Georgia), and we went out and showed it,” Johnson (first name is pronounced Reese) added.
Before a standing room crowd of about 600 fans, mostly boisterous Vanderbilt rooters, the red-hot Commodores scored one of their biggest tennis victories in recent history.
The win over the No. 9 ranked Bulldogs came in a tense 3 1/2 hour match at Vanderbilt Currey Center. It was in stark contrast to a 4-0 loss to Georgia in Athens March 23. It was the first time Vanderbilt had advanced past the quarterfinals since 2003 when they won the tournament. That year, the Commodores beat Florida in the finals, then went on to reach the NCAA finals.
Asked if it was the biggest win he’s had since he’s been at Vanderbilt, ninth-year Coach Ian Duvenhage, who formerly coached at Florida, said, “I’d say our win over Florida (last Friday) and this win both have to rank right up there.”
It was Vanderbilt’s first win over Georgia since 2004. Exactly a week ago, Vanderbilt beat No. 15 Florida 4-3 for its first win over the Gators since 2004. In March, the Commodores beat then No. 15-ranked Tennessee 4-1 for their first win over the Vols since 2006.
Vanderbilt got out of the gates fast, winning the doubles point 8-7.
After splitting the No. 2 and 3 matches, senior Ryan Lipman and junior Gonzales (A.J.) Austin traded early breaks with Georgia, then went with serve the rest of the match before easily winning the tie-breaker 7-2. Georgia (16-7) double-faulted on the first point, then Austin won his two service points, and the Commodores were on their way, 3-0.
In singles, the Commodores (16-9) lost the first set in five of the six singles and appeared to be sagging. The only exception was Austin, who beat Nathan Pasha in a first-set tiebreaker, 7-3. But afterwards, the Commodores caught fire.
The left-handed Austin won a thrilling second-set tie-breaker 12-10 to even the match, 2-2. Ryan Smith and Johnson followed suit at No. 6 and 4 singles, each rallying from a set down, and the upset was secured. Even had the match gone to 3-3, Vanderbilt’s Kris Yee was up 3-1 in the third at No. 3 singles and appeared to be poised for victory.
“We (the coaches) talked about putting Smitty (Ryan Smith) in the lineup at No. 6, and he really came through,” Duvenhage said.
“It was just a great team effort all the way around,” he said. “That was one of the most professional matches I’ve ever seen in my nine years here.
“It was one of the best tennis matches I’ve ever coached in. From the get-go in doubles, we competed well, we had great attitudes. If we had to give out game balls, there were so many to be given out today.”
No. 23 Vanderbilt (16-9) next meets Florida in a rematch Saturday at 2 p.m. in the semifinals after Florida eliminated LSU 4-0. Kentucky plays Texas A&M in the first semifinal at 10 a.m.
“We need to get a good night’s sleep, re-focus and get ready for Saturday,” Duvenhage added.
The win should add some noteworthy credentials for seeding when NCAA team bids go out in early May.
Vanderbilt women win: Like the men, Vanderbilt’s women advanced to the SEC tournament semifinals with a 4-2 win Friday over Kentucky at Columbia, Mo. The No. 11 ranked Commodores (19-5) used singles wins by Frances Altick, Marie Casares, Ashleigh Antal and Lauren Mira to beat the Wildcats.
Vanderbilt 4, Georgia 2
No. 1: #20 Austin Smith (Ga) d. #59 Ryan Lipman 6-1, 7-5.
No. 2: #22 Gonzales Austin (VU) d. #31 Nathan Pasha 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (12-10).
No. 3: Kris Lee (VU) led #83 Garrett Brasseaux 5-7, 6-2, 3-1, unfinished.
No. 4: Rhys Johnson (VU) d. Ben Wagland 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, clinching match.
No. 5: Nick Wood (Ga) d. Suresh Eswaren 7-6 (8-6), 6-1.
No. 6: Ryan Smith (VU) d. Herus Pieters 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3.
No. 1: Lipman-Austin (VU) d. Pieters-Wagland 8-7 (7-2).
No. 2: Johnson-Pen Binet (VU) d. Brasseaux-Pasha 8-3.
No. 3: Diaz-Smith (Ga) d. Smith-Eswaren 8-5.