FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The top four seeds of the 2008 Southeastern Conference Men’s Tennis Championship advanced to the semifinal round with victories Friday at the George M. Billingsley Tennis Center in Fayetteville, Ark. Tennessee will face Ole Miss in Friday’s first semifinal, while Florida and Georgia will face one another in the day’s final match.
Overnight rains forced the Tennessee-LSU matchup inside of the Dills Indoor Stadium. The Volunteers opened the scoring by winning the doubles point with victories on courts one and three. The 12th-ranked team of Kaden Hensel and J.P. Smith outlasted No. 26 Michael Venus and James Cluskey, 9-8, to clinch the first team point.
Tennessee built a 3-0 lead with wins by Smith and Boris Conkic at No. 2 and 3 singles, respectively, but LSU battled back to cut the Volunteer lead to one. Julien Gauthier and Michael Venus each pulled out three-set victories to put the Tigers on the board.
In the two remaining matches on court, LSU held leads and seemed poised to complete the comeback, but Tennessee’s Matteo Fago broke Cluskey in the 10th game of the third set to stay in the match at No. 5 singles. Fago rebounded from losing to first set to beat Cluskey, 0-6, 7-6, 7-5, to clinch the match for the Volunteers and send them into the semifinals.
Ole Miss set up a semifinal date with Tennessee by knocking off Kentucky, 4-0. The Rebels picked up the doubles point and completed the dual victory with wins on courts four, five and six. Wins by Jonas Berg, Kalle Norberg and Jakob Klaeson sealed the win for the tournament’s second seed.
“We knew it was going to be a tough match,” Ole Miss head coach Billy Chadwick said. “We played extremely well in doubles which was extremely important. Then, in singles we played great at Nos. 4, 5 and 6.
“Our match against Tennessee earlier in the season was a tough match when we won 4-3,” Chadwick said of the Rebels’ semifinal opponent. “Tennessee is definitely the hottest team right now, so it will be a great college match to watch.”
In the day’s third quarterfinal match, fourth-seeded Florida posted a 4-0 win over South Carolina, fresh off its upset of the tournament’s No. 5 seed, Alabama, in the first round. The Gators jumped out to a 1-0 lead after the doubles point and stretched the lead to 3-0 with singles wins by Nestor Briceno and Alex Lacroix.
On court four, freshman Tyler Hochwalt closed out the match with a straight-sets win over Johannes Pulsfort, 6-3, 6-2. With the win, 12th-ranked Florida will advance to play top-seeded Georgia in one of Friday’s semifinals.
The Bulldogs advanced with a 4-2 win over the No. 8 seed, Vanderbilt. Like the day’s other winning teams, Georgia picked up the doubles point to take the early lead. The Commodores tied the score when Florida’s Luis Flores was forced to retire from his match at No. 2 singles with an injury, which gave the win to Vanderbilt’s Vijay Paul.
Georgia responded with wins on courts three and six to push its lead to 3-1. At No. 5 singles, the Commodores’ Alex Zotov pulled his team within one with a straight-sets win over Javier Garrapiz. But Travis Helgeson, the nation’s No. 4 player, clinched the Bulldogs’ win with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Ryan Preston.
“I very pleased with the overall result,” Georgia head coach Manuel Diaz said. “We had a hard time getting through the doubles point, but we were finally able to get going.
“My heart is heavy for our (Luis Flores),” Diaz said of the Bulldogs’ No. 2 player. “He has already gone through two surgeries and then to get injured again here is devastating for him. I hear nothing is broken, but he was not even able to walk out of here on his own power.”
During the break in action between doubles and singles play, Georgia was awarded the 2008 SEC regular season championship trophy.
Semifinal action is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. CT with the Tennessee-Ole Miss matchup. The contest between Georgia and Florida will follow and is set for a 2 p.m. start. Log on to www.hogwired.com for the 2008 SEC Championship central page for live stats and complete results.