FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The finals of the 2008 Southeastern Conference Men’s Tennis Championship will be played out between Ole Miss and Florida after each team picked up a victory in Saturday’s semifinal matches at the George M. Billingsley Tennis Center in Fayetteville, Ark. No. 2-seed Ole Miss held off Tennessee, 4-2, in the day’s first semifinal, while the Gators rallied past the top-seeded team from Georgia, 4-2.
Ole Miss will contend for the SEC Championship title for the fifth time in program history, including four of the past five years. The Rebels claimed the tournament crown in 1997. This will also mark the Gators’ fifth trip to the championship match. They won the conference tournament in 1994 and 2000.
Against the Volunteers, Ole Miss took the 1-0 lead into singles play after winning the doubles point. At the No. 1 spot, Erling Tveit and Jonas Berg rolled past Tennessee’s Kaden Hensel and J.P. Smith, 8-1. After trailing 1-4 on court two, Robbye Poole and Matthias Wellermann rallied back and broke the Volunteers’ serve in the 15th game to take an 8-7 lead. The Rebel duo served out the match, 9-7, to clinch the first team point.
In singles play, Ole Miss took a 3-1 lead when Jakob Klaeson beat Jeremy Tweedt in straight sets on court six. Tennessee got back to within one on the team scoreboard with a three-set win at No. 2 singles by Smith over Wellermann. Smith rebounded from losing the first set to pick up the win, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3.
With the match at No. 1 singles between Tveit and Hensel heading into a third set, Kalle Norberg knocked off Matteo Fago, 7-6(4), 6-3, on court five to send the Rebels into Sunday’s final.
“(Tennessee) is a tough team,” Ole Miss head coach Billy Chadwick said. “We knew they had been playing better than any team coming in. The key to the match was doubles.
“We did a great job at Nos. 4, 5 and 6, especially at No. 5. (Tennessee’s Matteo Fago) was 11-0 in the league so that was a great match for Kalle. It was very fortunate we clinched at No. 5 because Hensel was playing very well at No. 1.”
In the second semifinal, Georgia had the early advantage with its win in doubles play. Josh Varela, playing in place of Luis Flores, and Travis Helgeson beat Nestor Briceno and Alex Lacroix, 8-6, on court two. The match at No. 1 doubles went into a tiebreak and Jamie Hunt and Nate Schnugg emerged with a 9-8(5) victory over Jeff Dadamo and Greg Ouellette.
The Bulldogs took a 2-0 lead when Hunt cruised to a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Lacroix at No. 3 singles. It would be the final team point for Georgia as the Gators battled back to win the next four matches.
Briceno started the rally with a straight-sets win over Schnugg on court two and Tyler Hochwalt squared the match, 2-2, by beating Javier Garrapiz, 6-4, 6-2, at No. 4 singles.
In a match between two top-five players, Ouellette picked up the Gators’ third team point when he defeated Helgeson, 6-4, 6-4. Ouellette, the nation’s No. 2 player, broke Helgeson’s serve in the 10th game in both sets en route to his victory.
With Florida one match away from the championship match, the matches at No. 5 and 6 singles headed into third-set tiebreakers within minutes of one another. Erik Corace provided the heroics for the Gators with a 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-6(3) win over Christian Vitulli on court six.
“My heart rate is pretty high,” Florida head coach Andy Jackson sais. “I’m really excited to beat such a great Georgia team. Erik Corace had been in this situation a couple of times (this season), and usually around the third or fourth time you learn how (to clinch a match). He deserved it.”
During the regular season, Florida beat Ole Miss, 5-2, in Oxford. This will be the sixth meeting between Ole Miss and Florida in the conference tournament. The Gators hold a 4-1 advantage in those five previous matchups. They have never faced one another in the championship match.
First serve of Sunday’s final is scheduled for 1 p.m. CT at the Billingsley Tennis Center. Log on to SEC Championship Central at www.hogwired.com to follow live stats and find complete results.