Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Pepperdine Upset Georgia
To Win National Championship
(All But One With Class And Honor)

Drove down to Palo Alto last night to watch the NCAA Men's Tennis Championship Final between #1 ranked (and undefeated) UGA and #2 Pepperdine. Although not nearly as large as UGA's facility (The Dan Magill Tennis Complex, widely considered the best in the nation), the Stanford facility is very nice, as you would expect for a school with tons of money and athletic success, specifically tennis (17 national championships; Roscoe Tanner, John McEnroe, Tim Mayotte, Patrick McEnroe, Alex O'Brien, etc).


A nice facility on a beautiful campus

Anyhow on to the match. Here's how it works: there are 7 points up for grabs, so the first team to 4 points wins. There are 6 singles matches, each worth 1 point each. Preceding this there are 3 doubles matches, which are worth a total of 1 point. Whichever team wins 2 out of 3 of the doubles matches is awarded the "doubles point". All 3 doubles matches were extremely close, and Pepperdine ended up winning 2 of them and taking the doubles point to go up 1-0. The doubles point always seems so insignificant in the beginning but never fails to prove crucial in the end. This was only the 4th time out of 30 matches this year that Georgia lost the doubles point.

Although this was the 4th match in 4 days for each team, Pepperdine definitely looked like they had more pep in their step then Georgia. Perhaps this was due to their easy defeat of Texas in their semifinal on Monday (4-1), while Georgia had a hard-fought, knock-down drag-out come from behind victory over Baylor (4-3) in their semifinal. Additionally, Georgia played in the final time slot all week, so they were going late into the night which probably meant that Pepperdine was a little more well-rested. After watching the doubles you got the feeling that Georgia was a bit of a woulded animal, that Pepperdine knew it, and they were really motivated to think that they could reverse their 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Georgia in the National Indoor Championship earlier in the year and be the first team this year to actually beat Georgia. Georgia seemed a wee bit lethargic/tired, and it was clear that they would need to dig deep to win.

Pepperdine clearly had more fans there than Georgia, which makes sense considering that they are a Southern California school so their alumni diaspora in the Bay Area is considerably larger than Georgia's. However, the Georgia fans who were there were pretty vocal which definitely evened things out a bit, including 3 shirtless dudes with "U", "G", and "A" painted on their chests. At a tennis match. Wow.

So the 6 singles matches are played concurrently, which means that if you have ADD then collegiate tennis is not the sport for you. Pepperdine won at #6 singles to go up 2-0, but Georgia won the first set in all of the other 5 matches so things looked manageable. But then the #3 singles dude for UGA, Antonio Ruiz, came from ahead to lose 6-1, 1-6, 4-6. It appeared like he simply ran out of gas (all credit to the Pepperdine dude though, who was on fire). The Dawgs were now down 0-3 and officially up against it. UGA pulled 2 points back with wins at #1 and #5 singles, so they now trailed 2-3 and had to win the #2 and #4 singles matches, both of which went to a 3rd set after Georgia won the first and Pepperdine the 2nd. If only they had won that doubles point, they would have been up 3-2 needing only 1 win from these two matches. I told you that doubles point always ends up being huge...

The official reports will simply tell you that although the UGA #2 player was ahead 3-2 (and up a break) in the 3rd set, Pepperdine won the #4 match to win the national championship 4-2, but there is more to it than that. We had moved over the the stands directly behind court 4 because it was apparent that this is what the whole thing came down to. Tied at 4-4 in the 3rd set, Andre Begemann of Pepperdine was able to break the serve of Georgia's Matic Omerzel, so he was serving for the match at 5-4. The crowd was pretty intense, with lots of yelling and encouraging from both sides between points.

Anyway, Andre is serving for the match and the NCAA Championship at 5-4, but loses the first point to fall behind 0-15. At 0-15, he rushes the net after a long rally and Matic hits a beautiful topspin lob over his head. Andre turns and runs back to try to get it, but it is quickly apparent that he has no chance to get to it. The ball lands not on the line but inside the line, and Andre calls it out (In collegiate tennis the players call their own lines and there is a chair umpire with the power to uphold or overrule calls if appealed to by either opponent). The ball was so obviously and clearly good that it is apparent that Andre is "hooking" Matic, which in tennis parlance means that he is cheating and attempting "to get away with one".

Immediate outrage and yelling from the stands. Matic appeals to the chair umpire, who amazingly does not overrule the call, probably because Andre was directly in between him and where the ball landed, so I can only guess that he did not have a view of it himself. If he had a clear view of it there is absolutely no way that he wouldn't have overturned the call - it was that obvious. More outrage. The Pepperdine head coach, who is standing just to the side of the court, turns to Andre and tells him that the ball is in. This is a nudging act of sportsmanship on the part of Pepperdine's coach, and an implicit hint that Andre should change his call and concede the point. Andre and the coach go back and forth several times, and the coach tells Andre no less than 5 times the ball was in fact in. We are all close enough to hear this so we implore the chair umpire to ask the coach, but per the rules he is not allowed to do this - only the player can change the call. So after cheating, and then being told by his head coach 5 times that the ball was in, Andre refuses to change his call and serves at 15-15 rather than 0-30. He goes on to hold serve, win the match, and clinch the national championship for Pepperdine.


Maybe if you cheat more in practice
you can one day make it up to #3 singles.


Would Andre have come back from 0-30 down to win that game anyways? He very well might have. But the odds are against it. Yes, if Matic had broken his serve that would only have made it 5-5, and anything could have happened. So I am not saying that if he had not cheated on this one call that Georgia definitely would have won the national championship. One call does not a best of 7 tennis match make. But it was extremely critical given the situation and the resulting hole that he would have been in. Bottom line is that his behavior was unsporting, classless, and dishonorable. It was a sad way to see it end, and a black eye on an otherwise wonderfully played series of matches.

And before you tell me that I am being a total homer because I wanted Georgia to win, I can assure you that this call was so unbelievably bad that every Pepperdine fan in the stands acknowledged that is was flat out wrong, not to mention that the Pepperdine head coach told the player to his face 5 times that the ball was clearly in.

So anyways, my point is not that Pepperdine's title is illegitimate or that this one call definitively prevented Georgia from winning. My point is that Andre Begemann of Pepperdine is a miserable cheating bastard, that there is no honor in winning the way he did, and that if he ever makes it big-time as a professional player and you see him play, you should remind him of what a wanker he is and why.

Now then, congratulations to Pepperdine for winning their first national championship. They played well and were able to slay the 30-0 UGA dragon that seemed unbeatable. I tip my hat to them and offer them my hearty congratulations. Except Mr. Begemann. He can kindly fuck off.

The individual tournaments get underway today and run through Monday. The top 64 ranked singles players make the singles tournament, while the top 32 ranked doubles teams make the doubles tournament.

Georgia's #1 player, John Mayer Isner, is ranked #2 nationally and thus seeded #2 in the singles draw. The UGA junior was 44-2 on the year in singles matches, and is currently riding a 28 match winning streak. At 6 foot 9, he looks like he should be playing basketball for UGA rather then tennis. He has a massive serve and it suprisingly mobile for someome his size. I hear he plays a hell of an acoustic guitar and is quite popular with the ladies as well.


Every man's dream: athlete AND rock star

Georgia #2 singles player, Luis Flores, enters the singles tournament unseeded. He is latin and lefthanded, and he is the guy on the UGA team that your wife/girlfriend/significant other would watch all day long because they would think that he was a total hottie.

In doubles, Isner and Antonio Ruiz, currently ranked #9, will attempt to defend the national title that they won last year in doubles, while the senior duo of Colin Purcell and Strahinja Bobusic, ranked #20, have also made the field of 32.

Here's hoping that they all bounce back from last night's disappointment and do well in their individual tournaments.

5 comments:

Brain said...

I'm not bitching but, does it not feel like THE DAWGS get hosed quite often? If it's not GAy Tech or the clock running out in Samford against Auburn or DJ getting hurt right before the Florida game this year or this, it seems like nothing can be smooth sailing for the DAWGS. This might also be a by product of just BEING IN THE FIGHT during high profile games/matches/situations. I am curious how did the team react to this situation? Did they whine or react well? I love this quote------ If you can mett with triumph and disater and treat those two imposters just the same, if you can do that, then you will have class.- Rudyard Kipling

Kanu said...

Brain-

Rub of the green, my man. Rub of the green. I don't feel like UGA are Job - I think over time it all evens out.

They handled it fine. Matic (the UGA #4 player) is the quiet/stoic type, so there were no McEnroe like outbursts, and Coach Diaz is pretty much the same way. Alot of this comes from Coach Magill (who was there and is still very involved in the program in a figurehead way), and hotheadedness at UGA is pretty much not tolerated. The team seemed to handle it with class. Again, it didn't literally make or break the whole deal, it was just a damn shame to see it go down like that, and after 3 hours of really great tennis to end on such a sour, unsporting note. EVERYONE knew what was going on, including Andre himself. It was just classless, especially in the "gentleman's game" of amateur tennis. No worries, man, karma will bite that dude on the ass sooner or later...

What was strange to me was the Pepperdine coach telling him 5 times that the ball was in, which seemed to me an implicit nudge that his player should have changed his call. This seems honorable, but then he let him get away with it anyways? Seems like some coaches in his position would have pulled him aside and insisted that he correct his call, rather than telling him he was wrong but then standing there and watching him ultimately cheat. The whole thing was really weird, because in the tennis subculture "hooking" is really, really forwned upon (kind of like knowingly improving your lie in golf and then lying about it).

As far as UGA getting bad breaks, I gotta think it is just rub of the green. If you consider that between 1977-2001 UGA hosted the NCAA Championships 22 out fo 25 years, in a stadium that seats I belive 5,000, they certainly were at an advantage. Some of the years that I went in college the theoretically-should-be-neutral championship site were in fact de facto home matches for Georgia, especially when you got around to the semifinals and finals. My understanding is that some of the other traditional tennis powers(Stanford, UCLA, and USC) complained that it was not fair for Georgia to host every year because it gave them an unfair advantage, and they were probably right (even though UGA has by far the best facility, the event was a huge success, always well attended and presumably more financially viable than anywhere - just check out the attendance stats here versus anywhere else: http://georgiadogs.collegesports.com/traditions/ugas.html)

In recent years they have rotated the tournament around to different sites, which seems fair.

So specifically speaking with tennis, it is hard for Georgia to cry too much about bad breaks when they have historically played so much in front of huge numbers of loud cheering fans.

Doesn't make what Andre did right, but worth noting nonetheless.

I've seen that quote, and it is excellent. I am learning to lose with grace as I get older, and afterwards I congratulated many of the Pepperdine fans around me. At the end of the day it is a game, and a good friend of mine once told me, "Sports is the toy department of life."

Pepperdine won their first national championship. They played amazingly well and that one point aside deserved what they earned. There is nothing to do but tip your hat to them, congratulate them on a job well done, and move on (of course you could always remind them of Georgia 4 national titles and 7 runner ups to Pepperdine's 1 and 2 respectively if you like).

Kanu said...

Sorry Brain, wrong link up there about the history of the championship and attendance. Here it is:

http://www.ncaasports.com/tennis/mens/history/divi

Kanu said...

Oh, and the whole losing with grace thing has one final frontier to conquer: UGA college football losses to UF, UT, Aub, & GT. It is happening, but at a pace that could best be described as... glacial.

Kanu said...

Brain-

Nice writeup by Coach Magill in the Athens Banner-Herald on Louisville native, St. X alum, and senior tri-captain Colin Purcell. He won last night at #5, finishing the season at 29-5 ans on a 20 match win streak, and didn't lose a single set between Feb. 18 until April 23, winning 32 straight sets.

http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/050306/tennis_20060503022.shtml

At least he didn't go to Male...