Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Isner’s coming to town

Friday July 15, 2011

Atlanta Tennis ChampionshipsIt’s not every day that an ATP World Tour event is held in your neighborhood. With the Atlanta Athletic Club set to host next month’s PGA Championship, the 2011 Atlanta Tennis Championships have moved a few miles south to Peachtree Corners and the Racquet Club of the South. The stadium and the neighborhood look great, and we’re excited about having 40,000 drop people by over the next week.

Qualifying will take place on Saturday and Sunday with the main draw starting on Monday the 18th and continuing through Sunday the 24th. The complete schedule is here. Unfortunately most of the weekday action takes place during business hours, but there will be plenty of chances to drop by both this weekend and next.

Mardy Fish, John Isner, and Lleyton Hewitt headline the 32-man singles event. Even Nicolas Mahut, Isner’s first-round Wimbledon opponent for the past two years, will be there. But Isner isn’t the only Bulldog coming to Norcross. Recent alum and co-captain of last year’s team Drake Bernstein will also be part of the field. Wil Spencer, a rising senior on the current squad, will compete this weekend for one of the four wildcard spots in the draw.

You can find ticket information here. Drop me a note, and I should be able to pass along some deals on tickets.

Post Isner comes to Atlanta looking to build on his McAvoy moment

Monday July 19, 2010

My God, John, it was…Well, it’s immortal!

Some cold, matter-of-fact tennis stat sheet will note that American and #23 seed John Isner was bounced unceremoniously from the second round of Wimbledon 2010 in straight sets by an unseeded Dutchman. In fact, if we get right down to it, Isner struggled to get past the first round against a player rated over a hundred places lower. Under any other circumstances, it would have been a pretty disappointing result for a seeded player hoping to make a splash on the grass surface of Wimbledon.

It was the greatest fifth set of all time.

Of course that struggle to get past the first round was an epic, record-breaking feat of endurance and will. With Federer’s fade leading to a finish lacking much drama, Isner’s first round win was the story of the tournament. To the casual sports fan who might only know a few of the big names of tennis, the saga that developed on that Wednesday in June and took over both sides of the Atlantic on an already-memorable sports day will still be fresh.

No one’s going to remember Wimbledon ten years from now, who won…but they’ll remember your 70-68!

Isner’s hardly an unknown, especially in the disparate universes of professional tennis and Georgia Bulldog athletics. If you remember that he led the Dawgs to the 2007 NCAA title, you were already familiar with Isner and his menacing serve. If you didn’t have to look up (like I just did) the fact that Andy Murray was one of the finalists in this year’s Australian Open, you already knew that Isner was an up-and-coming American who was knocking on the door of the world’s top 20 players.

Isner wasn’t as well-known to the collective American sporting consciousness, and yet there he was: on the same day Landon Donovan and his mates forced even the most curmudgeonly anti-soccer people to share in a moment of national joy, this guy in Nike garb and a Bulldog shirt soon had top billing. Letterman and daytime TV soon followed. He even landed an ESPY for Best Record-Breaking Performance.

But with a long career ahead of him Isner has larger ambitions than being remembered just as that guy who won the match that would never end. “A lot of people know who I am now, which is great, but now it’s up to me to make a name for myself besides this match, and I know I can do that,” he said. That process begins as he heads to the summer hardcourt series leading up to the U.S. open at the end of August.

Isner is in Atlanta this week for the Atlanta Tennis Championships. The tournament runs from today, the 19th, through the 25th at the Atlanta Athletic Club in John’s Creek. He’ll join a field that includes Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt as major tennis returns to the AAC after a nine-year absence. Isner’s first match is a doubles match scheduled for Monday evening, and he’ll begin singles play later in the week.

For tickets, scores, and more information, visit this site.

Post Isner off to a great 2010

Wednesday January 20, 2010

Bulldog tennis great John Isner won his first career ATP title last week at the Heineken Open in Auckland, New Zealand. He’s followed that up with a strong start in the Australian Open. He’s won two matches, including winning in straight sets in the second round, and has advanced to the third round. He’s one win away from the Sweet 16 of the Australian Open, and it would be the second straight major in which he’s advanced to the fourth round (after last year’s memorable US Open run which featured an upset of Andy Roddick).

ESPN sat down with Isner after his first round win at the Aussie Open, and he was properly attired.

John Isner

Post Isner makes a splash on the pro tour

Monday August 6, 2007

Just a couple of months after leading Georgia to the collegiate national title, it didn’t John Isner long to find success at the professional level.

In just his second professional event, Isner reached the finals of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic before falling to superstar Andy Roddick. He beat three top-ten seeds along the way with his dominant serve and clutch performances in tiebreakers. His finish earned him a $43,700 paycheck, and he will move up into the top 200 in the ATP rankings.

The finals had a decidedly Georgia flavor. Roddick’s brother John was a former Bulldog standout himself.

Post Isner and #1 tennis Dawgs go for national title today

Tuesday May 22, 2007

Georgia’s #1-ranked mens tennis team, led by top-ranked John Isner, will face Illinois for the national championship this afternoon in Athens. The match begins at 3:00 and will be televised by ESPNU. You can also follow it online here.

Isner lost in team play at #1 singles for only the second time this year, falling 4-6, 4-6 to Somdev Devvarmann of Virginia, the #2 player in the nation. Isner beat Devvarmann earlier in the year, setting up a possible rubber match with everything at stake when the individual tournament kicks off in Athens later this week.

How good is Georgia? Just ask the Baylor coach who lost in the semis to Illinois.

“Georgia is way too good for everybody,” Baylor coach Matt Knoll said. “It is hard to realize how good they are. A guy like (Nate) Schnugg could be playing Davis Cup tennis one day. If we had gotten to the finals, we had no chance.”

Hopefully Knoll’s prophecy will hold true this afternoon. Georgia fell in last year’s national championship, but their #2 singles player was out with an injury. The Dawgs are at full force in this tournament and have lost a single point along the way. Illinois at #10 might be considered a heavy underdog in this match, but they’ve done all the right things so far to make it into the championship.

Related links:

Post Football not an easy sell in South Carolina

Thursday July 9, 2009

The Palmetto State is home to some of the nation’s more rabid football fans. Clemson is the ACC’s closest analogue to an SEC school, and South Carolina fans are known for being loyal even through lean years. But with an unemployment rate over 12%, South Carolina has been impacted by the recession more than all but a couple of states. Naturally the economy has taken its toll on demand for the luxury of watching and supporting college football.

Clemson’s season ticket sales are down 12%, and the school expects lower revenue not just from ticket sales but also corporate sponsorships and individual contributions. “As a result, Clemson projects it could fall between $1 million and $2 million short of projected revenue for next year’s budget.” It’s somewhat of a cruel twist of fate that Clemson’s success in growing its fan base is causing it pain now. “Clemson figures to be among the hardest hit in the ACC because it is believed to possess among the largest pools of season-ticket holders.”

At South Carolina, the bad economy comes hand-in-hand with the poorly-timed introduction of a seat licensing plan (similar to Georgia’s Hartman Fund). Though the program has raised over $6 million for the program, the fallout over the plan is speculated to be behind the resignation of Bryan Risner, a “central figure” in the licensing plan. The plan has caused attrition in the Gamecock Club and has had an impact on ticket sales.

Demand seems to be holding up not only for Georgia but also Georgia Tech, but it’s certainly not a time for any program to rest on its laurels.

Post Is Kupets one of the greatest college athletes ever?

Monday April 20, 2009

Is Courtney Kupets the greatest college athlete ever?

It’s obviously a loaded question. So many people in so many sports over so many years. To even begin to make a claim like that, you’d have to consider her place as…

  • The best Georgia gymnast. You’re talking about the sport’s most dominant program over the last 20 years. The list of All-Americans, national champions, and former Olympians is miles long. Still, it only took one year for her to match the Georgia record of three individual national titles in one year. She broke that record this year with four titles.
  • The best collegiate gymnast. Georgia might have the best program, but there have been incredible individual performers at many other programs. Kentucky’s Jenny Hansen was named the NCAA’s top gymnast over the past 25 years in 2006 after winning eight individual titles during her career. Kupets matched and then topped that mark this weekend with nine career individual titles and also matched Hansen’s three career all-around titles. Without her season-ending injury in 2008, Kupets might have walked away with double-digit individual national titles and as the sport’s first four-time all-around champion.
  • The best Georgia athlete in any sport. Names like Walker and Wilkins come to mind when you think about Bulldog greats, but you have to dig deeper when you’re looking for the most accomplished Bulldog athletes. There are swimmers like Kristy Kowal and Courtney Shealy. Few had the impact that Vicki Goetze had on Georgia golf. John Isner is just the most recent legend cranked out by Georgia tennis. Teresa Edwards is one of the most recognized women’s basketball players in the world.

Still, when you look at team and individual accomplishments, it’s hard to come up with a better choice than Kupets. She’s done all she can do. Even more, she came back from a Achilles tear as a junior to have her best season as a senior.

When it comes to the best college athlete ever, the question becomes muddier. It’s hard to top someone like Cael Sanderson who never lost a wrestling match in college. There have also been dominant individuals in team sports – Mia Hamm was a standout on a team of standouts that won four national titles. For all I know, there might be some Stanford water polo player who was better. There’s no question though that Kupets at least belongs in the discussion.

Post For one day, it’s 4 to 2 in Texas

Tuesday May 20, 2008

The night didn’t start well for the defending champions, but Georgia’s depth and experience shone through as the Tennis Dawgs came back to beat Texas 4-2 in the national championship Tuesday evening in Tulsa. The title was Georgia’s first at a host site other than Athens, and it’s the first back-to-back titles in the program’s storied history.

For the second straight round, Georgia dropped the doubles point. They also dropped the first singles match at #6. Facing a 2-0 hole, Georgia quickly bounced back with wins at #2 and #4 to level things at 2-2. From that point Georgia’s seniors took over to sustain the momentum and clinch the title. Luis Flores wrapped up his match at #3 without much drama to give Georgia the 3-2 edge.

The championship came down to #1 singles where former Longhorn Travis Helgeson had dropped the first set and was down a break at 1-2 in the decisive third set. Helgeson battled back, won four of the next five games, and broke his opponent twice to go up 5-3. As soon as Flores’ match ended, attention shift to Helgeson up 5-4 and serving for the win. He closed out Dimitar Kutrovsky 6-4, and the celebration was on.

The Dawgs were ranked high all year, and they had a ton of talent, so it’s not like this title came from out of nowhere. Still, Georgia was hardly the odds-on favorite after losing players like John Isner and Matic Omerzel. The favorite doesn’t always win: a heavily-favored Georgia fell to Pepperdine in 2006, and the Dawgs dispatched this year’s top-ranked team, Virginia. Georgia got key performances from its most experienced players, and the team’s depth helped them weather some midseason injuries and win important singles points further down the lineup. In the end, the black did it again.

Georgia’s championship will be re-aired on ESPN2 at 3:30 p.m on Thursday May 22.

Travis Helgeson
Travis Helgeson in his decisive match. Photo: AP

Post Tennis Dawgs break Virginia’s heart

Monday May 19, 2008

It seems silly to call a win by the defending national champion an “upset”, but what else is there? When the other team has been #1 all season and entered the tournament undefeated, an upset it is. The Bulldogs upset top-ranked Virginia 4-3 on Monday evening to advance to Tuesday’s national title against Texas in Tulsa, Okla.

The “middle of the lineup” came through for Georgia in the semifinals. The Dawgs dropped the doubles point to the nation’s top-rated doubles team but then got singles wins at #3, #2 and #5 to surge ahead. Virginia soon evened things up with wins at #1 and #6, but Jamie Hunt came from a set down at #4 to give Georgia the decisive win.

Georgia now finds themselves back in the position of the favorite as they prepare to defend their national title. The Dawgs beat Texas 4-2 in an indoor match back in February, but a lot can change in three months.

The rematch presents a couple of interesting storylines. First, there’s the opportunity to win back-to back titles. Though Georgia has five team NCAA titles to its credit (four outdoor, one indoor), they have yet to defend a title. Second is the doubles point. Texas has won that key point in its last six matches, but they dropped the doubles point in the earlier meeting with Georgia. The Dawgs showed against Virginia that losing the doubles point isn’t necessarily a death sentence, but it does leave very little margin for error in singles play.

The biggest storyline for the championship is the Texas connection to the Georgia program. Georgia #1 singles Travis Helgeson played at Texas before transferring to Georgia, and there does seem to be some bad blood or at least bitterness left over. Helgeson isn’t the first high-profile UGA transfer from Texas; Antonio Ruiz made the move in 2004. Ruiz went on to win the NCAA doubles championship with John Isner. Georgia’s Jamie Hunt, who clinched the Virginia match, is a Texas native.

The Dawgs and Longhorns will play for all the marbles Tuesday night at 7:00 on ESPNU.

Post Flushing Meadows Bark

Thursday August 30, 2007
Isner US Open
Good job, John – now about the yellow…
(Photo: USOpen.org)

This weekend’s football season opener is an obvious reminder of what drives the Bulldog identity, but the US Open tennis tournament is showing us just how transcendent that identity is.

John Isner, the Bulldog tennis star I’ve mentioned a time or three here, is already making an impact on the professional tour. Earlier in the summer he advanced to the finals of one of his first professional tournaments. Now under the spotlight of the US Open, he’s continuing that success, winning over the crowd, and bringing the sounds of Athens to New York City.

Last night, in front of a partisan crowd, Isner recorded a straight-set second round win over South African Rik de Voest to advance to the round of 32. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Isner’s next opponent is Roger Federer, currently the most dominant men’s tennis player in the world. Isner will take his imposing serve and a shot of confidence into the match. "I’m going to believe," Isner said. "I’m not saying I’m going to win, but I’m going to believe."

Win or lose this weekend against Federer, Isner is already turning heads. It might be too soon to annoit him the next great hope of American tennis against the European juggernauts like Federer and Nadal, but Isner’s stock is on the rise. Easily likeable and fun to watch, he is a fresh face on the scene with a growing and distinctive cheering section. The US Open is already known as a place where tennis lets its hair down, but the barking for Isner is noticed even against that backdrop. His school ties are getting as much press as his serve:

He’s a Georgia Bulldog all the way, backed by barks each time he plays. A few months ago, Isner finished his senior year by leading Georgia to the NCAA team title. He proudly wears his school hat, the one with the giant G, every chance he gets.

With Isner’s match of a lifetime against Federer set for Saturday, it’s likely that most Bulldog fans will have Athens and football on their minds. But in Flushing Meadows, Isner and a small group of red-clad barking fools will be hunkered down in their own battle, and we congratulate them and wish them all the best. A great career is just getting started.

Post Pentacampeón!

Wednesday May 23, 2007

Georgia men’s tennis team won its fifth national title and first since 2001 on Tuesday in Athens. The Dawgs took a tightly-contested doubles point and then cruised in singles play to a 4-0 win over Illinois.

Senior Matic Omerzel clinched the win, and that was fitting as his match in last year’s national championship was also the deciding point. With the title, the Dawgs put the crowning accomplishment on a dominant undefeated season. I don’t know enough about college tennis to join the "best ever" discussion, but I do know that only an injury during last year’s NCAA Tournament kept Georgia from consecutive undefeated national championship seasons. Best ever or not, that’s a pretty incredible run in any sport at any time.

Though Dan Magill’s name is rightfully all over the tennis complex, Coach Manny Diaz has taken another step to cement his own legacy among the top names in the college game. This national title was his third – no other active coach has more than one title.

Now it’s on to the individual competitions where several Bulldogs stand a chance of earning even more hardware in singles and doubles play. John Isner will attempt to become the first player since 1998 to record a team, singles, and doubles national championship in the same season.

UGA men’s tennis - 2007 national champs

Post The best Bulldog athlete you probably don’t know about

Friday February 24, 2006

Georgia has no shortage of standout student-athletes. Tasha Humphrey, Courtney Kupets, DJ Shockley…all Bulldogs known and respected not only among our own fans but also nationwide among the media and fans who follow those sports. In other extremely successful programs like golf and swimming, there are also standouts who just don’t get the press and exposure to the fan base.

You might have heard that this is a pretty good time for Georgia men’s tennis. Manny Diaz usually has a competitive squad, but they recently added the ITA Team Indoor national title to their trophy case. With that indoor title, the Georgia program has at sometime or other won every bit of championship hardware available to an NCAA tennis program. The legacy of Diaz and Dan Magill is rock solid.

As a result of that title and an unblemished record, the tennis Dawgs are now ranked #1 in the nation. Of course a strong team like that needs more than one strong player. Strahinja Bobusic was just named SEC Player of the Week, and a total of four Bulldogs are nationally ranked singles players.

But the name most associated with the team these days is John Isner. Isner is the #1 singles player in the nation and one of the more compelling Bulldog athletes to come through Athens lately. The first thing you notice about Isner is his size. His 6’9″ frame would put him at home in Stegeman Coliseum, and it is imposing on the tennis court. At that height, and with that reach, his serve almost seems to come straight down. His first serve is devastating and nearly impossible to return when accurate. Obviously his game must be more complete than just a good serve to earn the #1 individual ranking, but the serve is the first thing the novice observer notices.

Isner is also an accomplished doubles player. He and Antonio Ruiz won the NCAA doubles national title last spring.

I discovered during my time at UGA that you could do a lot worse than spending spring afternoons at Foley Field or at the tennis complex. If you get the chance this spring, go check out Isner and the #1 tennis Dawgs. Even if you’re not a big tennis person, just watching Isner serve is likely to get a “daaaaaaaaamn” out of you and a bit of appreciation for one of the best athletes currently wearing the Red and Black.