March 22, 2005
Columbia, S.C. – Just hours after dropping to 41st in the national tennis rankings, the South Carolina men’s tennis team made its case to the country with a dramatic 4-3 upset of No. 25 Wake Forest in Columbia on Tuesday. The win snapped USC’s two-match losing streak and Carolina (13-5, 2-2 SEC) handed the Demon Deacons (11-2, 3-0 ACC) just their second loss of 2005. Gamecocks’ sophomore Dmitry Babenko and freshman Jaime Cuellar led the way; as South Carolina came back from 3-0 down to record its second upset of a Top 25 team this year.
Wake Forest came out strong in doubles, as their Nos. 1 and 2 doubles pairs got out to quick 4-1 leads and never looked back as they took both matches 8-3 to clinch the doubles point. Andrew Hamar and Brett Ross outdid Carolina’s Pedro Rodrigues and Geraldo Knorr on court one, while USC’s Tom Eklund and Jaime Cuellar were downed at No. 2 doubles by Derrick Spice and Marius Adamski. The two matches were almost exact duplicates as the scoreboard showed the same score eleven different times and the matches were concluded within a minute of each other. On court three, Gamecock senior Ben Atkinson and sophomore Dmitry Babenko earned the only service break for USC in the doubles point, but were down 6-4 to Todd Paul and Joe Bates when the match was suspended.
The Demon Deacons carried their momentum from the doubles point into the singles matches, but any momentum was halted as rained moved into the Columbia area and the match was suspended and then sent indoors. When play resumed after a 15 minute delay, Ross and Spice finished off tough first set wins over Knorr and Rodrigues respectively. Ross and Knorr traded early breaks in the first set before the rain came, and then stayed on serve the rest of the way in the No. 4 singles match, until Wake’s junior earned a 7-3 tiebreaker win to take the first set, before winning the match with a 6-2 second set win. Spice and Rodrigues were separated by a single break in Spice’s 6-4 first set win, which USC’s tall Brazilian sophomore answered with a 6-3 set win of his own. Spice earned a service break at 3-1 in the deciding set and never relinquished the lead in his third set win that put the Deacons up 3-0. Carolina was on the board within minutes however, as USC’s only ranked player, Eklund, edged Wake’s Paul in a second set tiebreaker to take the No. 1 singles match 6-2, 7-6(4). At No. 6 singles, Atkinson took on Demon Deacon junior Liron Strauss. The match was tied at 1-1 in the first set, with Atkinson leading 40-30 when the matches were suspended. After a waiting for an open court, Atkinson pulled Carolina to within one at 3-2 when he broke the Wake Forest junior at 3-2 in the first set and didn’t lose a game in the second, easily dispatching of Strauss in just 49 total minutes of play, 6-2, 6-0.
The longest match of the day would be at No. 3 singles, where USC freshman Cuellar knocked off No. 79 Hamar in a three-set marathon that lasted 3 hours and seven minutes. Cuellar lost the first set 6-3, after the pair played an incredible 31 and a half minute first game that included nearly 20 deuce points. The El Salvadorian native was able to come back and defeat Hamar in a second set tiebreaker to send the match into a third set. Hamar broke Cuellar in the fourth game of the final set, but Cuellar answered back immediately, breaking the Demon Deacon’s serve on his next two opportunities. Up 5-4 and serving for the match, Cuellar dove nearly all the way to his left to return Hamar’s forehand volley, and forced the nationally ranked sophomore to hit a stretching backhand across his body that landed just wide, giving Cuellar his 15th win of the spring, and allowing USC to tie the match at three points apiece.
For the Carolina’s second straight match, the Gamecocks had come from behind to tie the match at three and the deciding point would be determined in a third set at No. 5 singles. Sunday, that match pitted Babenko, who fell in a third-set tiebreaker in USC’s loss to Vanderbilt on March 13, against freshman Marius Adamski of Wake. Babenko won the first set in a tiebreaker and Adamski earned a break at 3-3 in the second before leveling the match with a 6-3 set win. In the third set, Carolina’s Russian sophomore broke Adamski in the opening game, but the Wake freshman broke Babenko in the fourth game to put the set back on the serve, where it remained until Babenko pulled out a service break at deuce in the second-to-last game. Just as Cuellar had done, Babenko served for the match at 5-4, but on his second match point opportunity put his serve at the end of Adamski’s reach, forcing the return into the net to give Babenko his first singles win since March 6, and USC its 100th singles win of the year.
The 41st-ranked Gamecocks will travel to the state of Alabama this Friday, March 25, to take on the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. They will follow up that SEC clash with a match at Auburn on Sunday, March 27. USC returns home the following Friday, April 1, to face Tennessee at 2 p.m. Carolina will then face the cross-border rival Georgia Bulldogs in Columbia on Sunday, April 3 at 1 p.m. Both home matches will take place at the Sam Daniel Tennis Facility on the campus of USC. The courts are located on Heyward St. adjacent to Sarge Frye Field. The matches are free and open to the public.