March 14, 2013
COLUMBIA, S.C. – No. 32 South Carolina opens a four-match road stretch with matches at No. 6 Tennessee and No. 5 Georgia this weekend. The Gamecocks (11-5, 1-1 SEC) look to carry the momentum of back-to-back victories over top-30 opponents into the Friday and Sunday matches.
“The team is excited to play the best competition in the country now,” South Carolina head coach Josh Goffi said. “Before the last few wins, they may have been doubtful going into these types of matches, but I don’t think they’re fearful of these matches any more. Going into this weekend, we’ve got No. 5 and No. 6 on the docket, so you can’t get much better competition on probably the toughest road swing in tennis. Right now, these guys are excited, and I think that’s the only way to look at it. This is a big weekend for us. Wins will be great, but primarily we need to go out there and battle like we belong inside the top 10.”
South Carolina moved up in the rankings this week after the last two wins – over Clemson (then No. 18 in the nation) and Florida. The Gamecocks have not topped the Gators since 2001, and the win came on gusty play from sophomores Andrew Adams and Thiago Pinheiro, who closed out the comeback from 1-3 down to secure the 4-3 win. Tsvetan Mihov, ranked No. 106 in the nation with a 10-5 record at the top of the singles lineup, and Kyle Koch also won their singles matches against the Gators to set the stage. Adams has won five of his last six matches, including a pair of comebacks from a set down and last week’s win over the nation’s 62nd-ranked player. Pinheiro has shown similar grit en route to his 10-2 dual-match record. He has won eight of his last nine matches and is a perfect 5-0 in three-set matches this season, rallying from a set down each time.
“Andrew was our most solid point last year, and he’s getting back to being that at the high end of the lineup,” Goffi said. “It’s always good to have guys like Tsvetan and Andrew anchoring the top part of your lineup. That builds confidence in the rest of the guys, knowing that those guys will show up every day. Andrew is starting to understand where he was last year mentally, and, more importantly, that he’s a better player than last year. He’s getting back to that tough mentality every single match.
“Thiago has the biggest fight on the team. He and Andrew get aggressive with their opponents. Their style of game doesn’t take its toll until about an hour into the match, so they might lose a tough first set, but they’re still doing work on their opponent. It takes a tough, tough kid to play that way and play that style of game. The way Thiago has constantly been able to come back from a set down builds confidence for the team.”
The Gamecocks open this weekend at Tennessee on Friday at 2 p.m. The Vols are 14-5 on the season and 1-2 in SEC action, falling to Georgia and Ole Miss. Still, three of the six singles spots and two of the three doubles positions are filled by nationally ranked entries, led by No. 6 Mikelis Libietis at the top of the singles lineup. Hunter Reese plays in the second spot in the order with a 22-6 record that has him ranked 29th in the country, and Brandon Fickey rounds out the trio with a No. 115 ranking behind his 22-8 slate. Libietis and Reese combine to form the nation’s 17th-ranked doubles tandem as their 2-0 record includes wins over No. 24 and No. 5. The duo of John Collins and Edward Jones holds a No. 61 ranking with a 9-7 record.
South Carolina travels to No. 5 Georgia for a 1 p.m. start on Sunday afternoon. The Bulldogs are 10-4 on the season with a 2-1 mark in SEC action following last Friday’s narrow 4-3 loss at Ole Miss. KU Singh leads Georgia with a No. 7 national ranking and has a 4-1 record at the top of the Bulldogs’ singles lineup. Three others boast a national ranking as Nathan Pasha’s 21-11 record has him at No. 39 in the nation and Ben Wagland comes in at No. 71 with a 16-6 mark. Pasha and Wagland man the second and third spots, respectively, in the singles lineup, while Hernus Pieters completes the quartet of ranked Bulldogs (No. 101) in the fifth position in the lineup. Pieters and Wagland pair up for a 17-8 doubles record that ranks them fifth in the nation, while Pasha and Garrett Brasseaux have earned a No. 39 ranking behind a 10-2 mark.
After this weekend, the Gamecocks spend next weekend on the road as well, traveling to No. 31 Auburn and No. 27 Alabama for matches Friday and Sunday, respectively.