May 14, 2005
Stillwater, Okla. – The USC men’s tennis squad survived a late Oklahoma rally to win a 4-3 thriller in the opening match of the NCAA Stillwater Regional on Saturday. Carolina (19-8, 6-5 SEC) won an easy doubles point and junior Geraldo Knorr clinched the win with a three-set victory at No. 5 singles, sending the Gamecocks to their sixth regional final the last nine years. Junior Tom Eklund and freshman Jaime Cuellar also picked up singles wins over the Sooners (15-7, 2-5 Big 12). The Gamecocks, who have now recorded their second highest win total since joining the SEC in 1992, will play in the Stillwater Regional final on Sunday at 3 p.m. (ET).
The Gamecocks came out hard in the doubles matches, and clinched their 21st doubles point of the season in just 48 minutes. At No. 1 doubles, USC’s 23rd-ranked pair of Pedro Rodrigues and Geraldo Knorr made quick work of OU’s Tommy Garrison and Ondrej Fukala, losing just four points and serving up four aces in their five service games, and breaking the Sooner pair in their final three service attempts on their way to a 31-minute, 8-2 win. Rodrigues and Knorr, who are bound for the NCAA Doubles Tournament later this month, are now 6-1 in their last seven completed matches, and have not dropped a decision since March 25. Carolina would clinch the point 17 minutes later, when freshman Jaime Cuellar, serving with double match point, forced Sooner Silviu Tanasoiu to reach far to his right and hit a forehand back into the net, sealing Cuellar and Tom Eklund’s 8-4 win at No. 2 doubles.
Oklahoma would return Carolina’s quick doubles start with their own fast beginning to singles. The teams spilt first set wins, but OU won two sets 6-0, with USC a take a 6-3 first set at Nos. 3 and 6, and the teams split tie-breaks in first sets at Nos. 1 (USC) and 5 (OU). The first two points in the singles matches would go to the Sooners at Nos. 2 and 4, but less than a minute after Tommy Garrison gave OU a 2-1 lead, Eklund would knot the match at two points apiece with his 7-6(10-8), 6-3 win at No. 1 singles. After the first set tiebreaker, Eklund, who is currently 35th in the country and headed for the NCAA Singles Tournament, broke 63rd-ranked and fellow-NCAA qualifier Marek Velicka in the fourth game of the second set and never looked back. Just 15 minutes later, on neighboring court number three, Cuellar returned Alexei Ivanov’s serve on double match point, and forced Ivanov to hit a cross-court forehand long to the USC freshman’s right, sealing Cuellar’s 6-3, 6-4 win and giving Carolina a 3-2 lead in the match. Just as their SEC Quarterfinal match with Tennessee did three weeks ago, the match would come down to Nos. 5 and 6 singles, only this time USC would need just one win to seal the deal.
Oklahoma native and junior Lee Gregg would send the match to a tie and put the pressure on the players at No. 5 singles with his nail-biting three-set win over USC’s senior Ben Atkinson at No. 6 singles. Atkinson took the first set 6-3, but couldn’t hang on, dropping the final two sets, 0-6 and 5-7.
With the match all even at three, the focus of the 350+ in attendance turned to court five and the match-up between Carolina junior Geraldo Knorr and OU senior Silviu Tanasoiu. The two players’ service games were the highlight of the first two sets, as there was just one break in the opening two frames, that going to Knorr in the fifth game of the second set. However, that would change in the final set, as Knorr earned two straight breaks in the fifth and seventh games of the set. The native of Florianopolis, Brazil took serve with the match on the line and responded perfectly, quieting the predominantly OU crowd’s repeated “Boomer Sooner” cheers with an ace on the first point of the deciding game. Knorr then dropped two straight points, but those would be the last points of the match for Tanasoiu, as the Carolina junior hit a service winner, forced Tanasoiu to hit a backhand into the net and then put his forehand volley just inside the deuce service box for the match winner.
USC advances to the Stillwater Regional Final on Sunday afternoon against the winner of Oklahoma State-Southwestern Missouri State. The match is slated for a 3 p.m. (ET) start at the DeBois Tennis Center. Live stats will once again be available on OSU’s official website, www.okstate.com. The winner of that match will advance the NCAA “Sweet 16” next Saturday in College Station, Texas on the campus of Texas A&M University.