2023 NCAA Championships: After rainout, Ohio State outlasts Georgia in D1 quarters
It was worth the wait: After rain washed out the majority of the four Division I men's quarterfinals on Thursday night, the play on the courts at the USTA National Campus Friday was as hot as the temperatures, as the mercury hit in excess of 90-degrees.
The Top 10-match between No. 3 Ohio State University and No. 6 University of Georgia, which was postponed completely along with the quarterfinal between second-seeded Texas Christian University and the seventh-seeded University of Michigan, was the most competitive of the four: The Buckeyes came back from deficits of 1-0 and 3-2 to book a spot in the national semifinals by a 4-3 final.
First-year Alexander Bernard beat Miguel Perez Peña at No. 5 singles in the deciding match to put Ohio State into the last four for the seventh time in the 24-year tenure of head coach Ty Tucker.
"Every guy in that locker room for us dreamed about having a chance to clinch a match and play on a big stage. ... They don't care if it's 12:00, 2:00, 10:00, it's time to play," Tucker said afterwards. "[This is] a great Georgia team—stacked players and a great coaching staff—so to be able to come back down from 1-0 after losing the doubles point and take four of six from Georgia on a 90-degree day, it feels good.
"I think a lot of teams think that the Buckeyes aren't ready to play outside tennis right now since we've been doing a lot of indoor tennis, but we trained pretty hard and we want to give it a run."
Ohio State is though to a semifinal match against the second-seeded Horn Frogs, who knocked off Michigan 4-1, also on the strength of their singles play after losing the doubles point. Three of the four completed singles matches went to a tiebreak in the first set, and TCU won all three. Freshman Sebastian Gorzny delivered the deciding victory at No. 5 singles, a 7-6(6), 6-2 win over Gavin Young.
Friday's win was doubly sweet for TCU head coach David Roditi, as it was his 250th at the helm of his alma mater. As a player, his team reached the national semifinals in his senior season in 1996.
"It's so hard to get to this spot," Roditi said. "We've only done it four times [before] in the history of TCU. ... I got to be a part of it as a player, and that's what I remember. It was a great experience and we're so appreciative, with so many good teams. And the team we beat today, come on. [Michigan head coach] Adam Steinberg, he's won a national championship at Pepperdine as a coach. [Michigan associate head coach] Benjamin Becker was a legend as a tennis player.
"There's absolutely no part of us that would take it for granted, and we're just appreciative of the opportunity to be able to play in the Final Four. We're excited about it."
"I was able to clinch, but it could have been anyone," Gorzny added, praising his teammates' ability to bounce back in singles.
With both teams losing the doubles point in the quarterfinals, something will have to give in the pursuit of a championship berth—something the Ohio State skipper is keenly aware of.
"You can't fall behind 1-0 in every round; it gets a little tougher to take four of six singles matches," Tucker said. "We've got to get a doubles point, we've got to go back and we've got to watch some video, we've got to correct a couple of things, we've got to put first serves in the court and we've got to make sure we're not missing second-serve returns."
The other semifinal will see No. 1 seeds Texas take on No. 5 Virginia. The top-seeded Longhorns blanked eighth-seeded South Carolina 4-0 to reach the national semifinals for the seventh time in school history, and third in the last four, while the Hoos kept their hopes for a title defense alive with a 4-2 win over the University of Kentucky.
Unlike the two aforementioned quarterfinals, the two matches got on the court on Thursday night and completed doubles; while Texas slept on a 1-0 lead, Virginia had to come from behind when they returned to the court. Kentucky's Taha Baadi and Alafia Ayeni won a tiebreak that went to 11-9 to beat Inaki Montes and William Woodall at No. 1 to give the Wildcats the lead before rain came.
After play resumed on Friday at 10 a.m, wins by Virginia juniors Alexander Kiefer and Chris Rodesch at No. 5 and No. 1 singles, and another for graduate student Ryan Goetz at No. 4 put the Hoos up 3-1. With seven upperclassmen on a roster of 10 players, head coach Andres Pedroso said his team's collective experience was crucial, even though a first-year, Swedish native Mans Dahlberg, came through with the clincher.
From a set behind, Dahlberg outlasted Charlelie Cosnet in a third-set tiebreak, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3).
"They know what this tournament is all about," he said. "We've been here before. They have their routines. They know how to bounce back from losing a doubles point from rain delays, whatever it is. These guys have been through it all. So it's all about them. They're ready and they're prepared for whatever comes out.
"More experience always helps in anything in life. So our guys, again, they've been through a lot of tough matches and especially in this tournament; we've been in these matches for many years now, so this program knows what it's doing in this moment."
Though the underdogs by seed, Virginia takes a 20-match winning streak into the semifinals, and Pedroso said he hopes his team will display some similar character and fighting qualities in the next round.
"We're going to have to play well. We're going to have to fight hard. We're going to have to be resilient," he added. "Texas is a great team. We have a lot of respect for them, so it’s going to be a great match."
For more information, including tickets, draws and schedule, visit the USTA's NCAA Championships homepage. For all the latest news from the Division I, II and III tournaments, visit USTA.com's news landing page for the event.