April 3, 2005
Columbia, S.C. – Just two days after breezing by No. 17 Tennessee 6-1, the USC men’s tennis team (16-6, 5-3 SEC) delivered its second Top-20 upset of the weekend, knocking off the eighth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs 4-3 in Columbia on Sunday. Two of Carolina’s wins in the match were just as important as the overall result, with junior Tom Eklund defeating No. 13 John Isner in three sets at No. 1 singles. In doubles, USC sophomore Pedro Rodrigues and Geraldo Knorr upset their second Top-10 team of the weekend, downing No. 2 Isner and Antonio Ruiz 8-6.
With a stiff breeze from the north blowing across the six courts of the Sam Daniel Tennis Center, the doubles matches got off to shaky starts, with seven of the first ten games in all three match-ups being service breaks. The players would adjust however, and senior Ben Atkinson and sophomore Dmitry Babenko won their third straight doubles match, defeating Ricardo Gonzalez and Matic Omerzel 8-6 at No. 3 doubles. Rodrigues and Knorr had broken Isner and Ruiz in the first game of the pro set and that would prove to be the decisive game, as the Gamecocks handed the Bulldog pair their first loss in SEC play and just their second of the season 8-6 at No. 1 doubles.
As the match switched to singles play, Georgia (13-5, 5-3 SEC) had the advantage and led 2-1 after wins at Nos. 2 and 5 singles. On court five, Knorr and Colin Purcell fought through a tough first set that Purcell managed to clinch 7-5. Knorr played a strong second set, but it didn’t show on the scoreboard, as Purcell won the second set 6-1. No. 2, Rodrigues and Ruiz battled it out in the second set, but the USC sophomore’s comeback bid was stopped just short in the tiebreaker, as Ruiz took a 6-2, 7-6(6) victory to give UGA a 2-1 lead. However, USC would not give up hope, and within three minutes, Babenko had clinched the No. 5 singles match in a second-set tiebreaker of his own, defeating Strahinja Bobusic 6-3, 7-6(5), evening the match at two. After dropping the No. 6 singles match 3-6, 6-0, 6-4, Carolina turned its focus to the matches on courts one and three.
On court one, Eklund earned two of the just three service breaks in the match, one each in the second and third sets, to knot the match at three points apiece and secure his second upset of the weekend. With the scores level, the attention of the players, coaches, and fans turned to No. 3 singles, where USC freshman Jaime Cuellar was facing No. 61 Omerzel. Cuellar dropped the first set 6-3, but earned a service break at 6-4 to clinch the second set and send the match to a third set. The freshman from El Salvador found himself down a break after the fifth game of the set and was serving, down three match points, at 3-5. Cuellar fought off each of those to close the gap to a single game, and then broke Omerzel in the next game to tie the set at five all. After being broken to 5-6, Cuellar broke Georgia’s Slovakian freshman by forcing three straight Omerzel forehands into the net and a final point just wide to send the match into a tiebreaker. Omerzel got out to a quick 3-0 lead in the break, but Cuellar was able to overcome that deficit and with the support of the 300-plus fans in attendance, won seven of the final nine points to clinch his 24th win of the season and USC’s third Top-25 upset in three weeks (#25 Wake Forest, #17 Tennessee, #8 Georgia).
#8 Georgia 3
#34 South Carolina 4
1. Rodrigues/Knorr (SC) def. #2 Isner/Ruiz (G) 8-6
2. #51 Bobusic/Purcell (G) def. Eklund/Cuellar (G) 8-6
3. Atkinson/Babenko (SC) def. Gonzalez/Omerzel 8-6
Order of Completion: 3, 2, 1
South Carolina wins doubles point
1. #55 Tom Eklund (SC) def. #13 John Isner (G) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
2. #68 Antonio Ruiz (G) def. Pedro Rodrigues (SC) 6-2, 7-6(6)
3. Jaime Cuellar (SC) def. #61 Matic Omerzel (G) 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(5)
4. Dmitry Babenko (SC) def. Strahinja Bobusic (G) 6-3, 7-6(5)
5. Colin Purcell (G) def. Geraldo Knorr (SC) 7-5, 6-1
6. #63 Matias Ormaza (G) def. Ben Atkinson (SC) 3-6, 6-0, 6-4
Order of Completion: 2, 5, 4, 6, 1, 3*
Time of Match: 3:24