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May 21, 2005


College Station, Texas – The Carolina men’s tennis team’s best postseason run in seven years was halted on Saturday, as the 3rd-ranked and 4th-seeded Florida Gators ended the Gamecock’s national title hopes with a 4-0 win in the Sweet 16 in College Station, Texas. USC was minutes from clinching the all-important doubles point, but dropped it and then singles matches at Nos. 1, 3, and 6 to the Gators (23-5, 10-1 SEC) at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center in College Station, Texas. The Gamecocks end the season with a record of 20-10, their best since the 1998 season, when they also made the NCAA Sweet 16.

The doubles point started out well for Carolina, with their doubles teams earning service breaks and taking 2-0 leads on courts one and two. After being down a break and 0-3, the Gamecocks’ No. 3 pair of Ben Atkinson and Dmitry Babenko fought back but were broken in the tenth game of the pro set by Nestor Briceno and Stefan Tell, who were able to hold on for an 8-5 win. Florida’s Chris Brandi and Jordan Dolberg would get a break back on court two against USC’s Tom Eklund and Jaime Cuellar, but the pairs proceeded to trade five more service breaks in the match, including Eklund and Cuellar’s decisive break to 7-6. With Eklund serving for match at 40-0, his serve was returned a foot over the baseline by Brandi and the Gamecocks’ had earned a split of the Nos. 2 and 3 doubles matches.

With the doubles matches split, the crowd turned to the No. 1 doubles match of 8th-ranked Hamid Mirzadeh/Greg Ouellette and USC’s 23rd-ranked duo of Pedro Rodrigues and Geraldo Knorr. When Eklund and Cuellar clinched on court two, the top doubles match was even at six games apiece and 30-30. Mirzadeh would serve out the next two points and with a 40-30 lead in the final game, Ouellette forced Knorr to hit a net volley long to clinch the match and doubles point for the Gators.

Florida carried the doubles point momentum into the singles, and won five of the six first sets in singles. Freshman Jaime Cuellar, who has won more singles matches than any Gamecock since Marcus Westman in 2002, fell 6-4 and 6-1 to Vlad Obradovic at No. 3 singles and UF’s Hamid Mirzadeh gave the Gators a 3-0 lead with his 6-4, 6-2 win at the top singles match. Florida would put away any hopes of an eighth comeback of the year for Carolina with a 6-2, 6-3 win at No. 6 singles when USC senior Ben Atkinson returned a Ryan Sherry baseline volley into the net on dual match point.

Florida advances to Sunday’s quarterfinals where they will face the winner of 5th-seeded Illinois and unseeded Florida State at 5 p.m. (CT)

USC’s Eklund (singles), and Rodrigues/Knorr (doubles) will remain in College Station where they will compete in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships next week. The draw will be conducted Tuesday afternoon, prior to the team final. Singles play begins on the 12 courts of the Mitchell Tennis Center on Wednesday, May 25, while the 32-team doubles tournament begins Thursday.

The loss marks the end of one of Carolina’s most successful seasons since joining the SEC in 1992, one in which they set or broke three school records, making their 12th straight NCAA Tournament, winning six conference matches in SEC play, and upsetting a school-record seven Top-25 opponents. Six of USC’s wins came over teams that made the NCAA Tournament, and the Gamecocks defeated two of the final 16 teams who made it to College Station (Tennessee, Georgia).