COLLEGE STATION, Texas - On the host school's courts and in front of its fans, the No. 1-seeded Georgia Bulldogs held their ground, beating fifth-seeded Texas A&M, 4-0, Saturday afternoon to advance to the finals of the Southeastern Conference Women's Tennis Tournament.
The win put the 2019 Georgia (23-0) squad alone atop of the program record book for consecutive victories in a single season at 23. Georgia is in search of its eighth tournament title and first since 2014. If Georgia adds the SEC Tournament Title with the SEC regular season championship it would be the fifth Georgia team to accomplish the feat.
"It is the finals of the SEC Tournament, so certainly you have to be ready, because it is going to be a battle," Georgia head coach Jeff Wallace said. "We've worked hard to get to this moment and this is one of the things that we really wanted to accomplish. I told the team that I'm really proud of them for the fact that they've won 23 straight matches, becoming the only team in the history of the Georgia program to do so in a single season. That's an impressive feat. However, winning championships is even more impressive and they know that."
Georgia, ranked No. 1 in both national polls, will play No. 2-seed South Carolina, ranked No. 5 in ITA, for the 50th edition of the SEC Tournament crown. The match is scheduled for Sunday at 3:30 p.m. CT, and will be broadcast on SEC Network.
"I said it yesterday and there's been a lot of these this year, where we've found a way to win 4-0, but it was an epic battle out here today," Wallace added. "The No. 1-doubles team for the second straight day looked really good as they won pretty one-sided. Christofi on No. 5 singles won 6-2, 6-0, it was tough tennis, but still pretty one-sided. Other than that every other match was an absolute battle. It was great for our team to get tested and to be in a situation like this. We need to want that, and that is what makes us better as a team too."
Doubles against the 19th-ranked Aggies mirrored that of Georgia's quarterfinals start on Friday. The Bulldog court one duo of sophomore Katarina Jokic and freshman Lourdes Carle were again playing the best they have all season. After getting their serve broken at 2-1, Jokic and Carle buttoned up, winning four-straight games to down the No. 32-ranked Texas A&M pair of Jayci Goldsmith and Tatiana Makarova, 6-1. The ranked win would of registered as the highest for Jokic and Carle if it weren't for their victory on Friday against LSU's 15th-ranked team.
For the second day in a row, junior Marta Gonzalez and freshman Meg Kowalski solidified the 1-0 Georgia lead with a clinch on court three doubles. The twosome dropped the set's opening serve, but immediately broke back and didn't falter going forward. Up 3-2 and on deuce point, Gonzalez broke the Aggies' serve by pounding the corner for the 4-2 edge. In the next game, Gonzalez finished at the net to keep serve en route to the tandem's 6-3 victory. The seventh consecutive win for the court three team puts them at 11-3 on the dual season.
The score misleads the closeness of singles play, as two courts spilled into third sets. Tied at 4-4 in the first set, Carle powered through the final two games to seal Georgia's fourth first set, which gave the Bulldogs the advantage in what looked to be an eventual split possibility. Later, Carle clinched the team victory, while the two of the last three remaining singles matches were in third sets and were either within a game of each other or tied.
Like on repeat, junior Elena Christofi and sophomore Vivian Wolff put Georgia up 2-0 and 3-0, respectively. Christofi breezed past Riley McQuaid, 6-2, 6-0, on court five for her ninth win in a row, improving to 17-5 overall, which includes 13 dual wins.
Over on court four, Wolff's match did not come as fast or easy. Wolff, ranked No. 62 in ITA singles, blanked Renee McBryde in set one, but the Aggie freshman bounced back in the second set, 6-2, to force a third set. Wolff jumped up 3-1, but got broken on serve for McBryde to make it 4-3 and then McBryde held to knot it at 4-all. Back on serve, Wolff held and then broke McBryde in the next game for the 6-0, 2-6, 6-4 win, upping Wolff's win streak to 17-straight and her team-best record to 29-3.
"Vivian [Wolff] got off to a good start at 3-0, 4-1, but then she let a few games slip and all of a sudden it was 4-all, and anybody's match," Wallace said. "However, she played the two last games really well. She had a lot of great forehands, which was very important. And then Lourdes [Carle] won 6-4 6-4 in two really hard fought close sets. It was good to see her get the clinch."
Moments after Wolff's finish, Carle, ranked No. 62, clinched her sixth match of the season to send Georgia into the SEC Championship match. Carle's match with Makarova on court three was a back-and-forth affair as it was tied seven times. In the first set, the match saw 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, before Carle got the decisive break and hold to take it 6-4. In the second set, the Aggie sophomore led 3-1, until Carle tied it 3-all. Again Carle obtained the crucial break to go up 5-4 and then held to conclude the match. The Argentinean product notched her 10th-straight win, bringing her overall record to 20-5 with 15 dual wins.
At the time of stoppage, Jokic, the nation's No. 1-ranked singles player, was ahead 2-1 in the third set over No. 54 Katya Townsend on court one. Battling in a 3-3 third set was Kowalski on court three, while Gonzalez, ranked No. 19, trailed No. 69 Goldsmith 3-2 in the second set after falling in a first-set tiebreaker.
The SEC Championship Final appearance is the 20th for the Bulldogs since the current format was instituted in 1990. The Gamecocks (19-3) defeated No. 3-seeded Vanderbilt in Saturday's other semifinal. Georgia defeated South Carolina in Columbia in the regular season, 4-2.