May 19, 2002
COLLEGE STATION, Texas-- Tennessee advanced to its third consecutive NCAA Tennis Championships Final Four with a 4-1 victory over SEC rival Kentucky Sunday afternoon at the Texas A&M Tennis Center. The Vols move on to play Southern California Monday at 5 p.m. for their second consecutive berth in the national finals.
The Vols are the only team in the nation to advance to the Final Four in each of the last three seasons. Today's win over the Wildcats marked the 100th victory for Tennessee head coach Michael Fancutt, who is completing his fifth season at his alma mater.
"This was very tough mental battle out there today," Fancutt said. "Kentucky has a really good team, they could win four singles matches against a lot of teams. But our team has won so many matches in a row that we expect to win. I really don't know anythingabout USC, but I do know that it is going to take a great team to beat us."
The Vols (22-6) opened the match with their 11th straight doubles point win, winning two of the three matches to get the early lead. The Tennessee pair of Simon Rea and Mario Toledo, ranked No. 22 nationally, began the scoring with an impressive 8-1 win in the No. 1 match over No. 49-ranked Evan Austin and Karim Benmansour. The Wildcats (23-10) would come right back, with an 8-5 win by Rahim Esmail and Jesse Witten in the No. 3 match over Mark Dietrich and Andy Crews. The loss ended a nine-match winning streak by the Tennesee pair, which included a streak of four straight clinching points during the tournament season. The Vols would put the finishing touches on the doubles tally when the duo of Adam Carey and Peter Handoyo downed Kentucky's Johan Grunditz and Gustav Pousette in the No. 2 match 8-6, moving the pair's season record to 14-1. The Vols now stand at 19-1 on the season when taking the doubles point.
The Vols started the singles segment strong, winning the first set in four of six matches. It was a return to normalcy of sorts for the Big Orange when the points started being scored, as senior Peter Handoyo was the first player off the court, having won his 12th straight match. Fellow senior Adam Carey was not far behind, finishing off Kentucky's Evan Austin within minutes of the completion of Handoyo's match to run his win streak to 11 straight and make it 3-0 Tennessee. That would be the end of easy street for the Vols, as three of the four matches left on the court went to third sets and the fourth was won by the Wildcats. The lone Wildcat tally was put up by No. 61-ranked Karim Benmansour in the No. 2 match over Tennessee's No. 18-ranked Mario Toledo 6-1, 7-6. The Wildcat's chances started to look pretty good having all three of the remaining matches heading into the third sets and having two seniors and a sophomore matched with the Vols' two sophomores and a freshman.
The experience would not prove to be a factor, as the Vols would end the Kentucky run at one, with Tennessee freshman Mark Dietrich coming back from one set down to defeat Kentucky's Johan Grunditz in the No. 4 match. The win was Dietrich's fifth in his last six matches and also tied him with Adam Carey for the team lead in clinching points with six, but none would be so big as this one.
"I knew that that the team needed me to get that win," Dietrich said. "I was confident that Wade (Orr) or Simon (Rea) could get it done, but did not want them to have to grind it out."
Tennessee will meet USC Monday afternoon at 5 p.m. (EDT) on the Stadum court. The Trojans (23-5) defeated No. 3 seed Illinois Sunday 4-2, to advance to the Final Four. USC has won 15 NCAA tennis titles, with the most recent coming in 1994. The Vols are 1-2 against the Trojans all-time, with the last meeting coming in 1990 -- a 5-3 UT victory.
|#2 Tennessee 4, #7 Kentucky 1|
|1) (7) Peter Handoyo (UT) vs. (6) Jesse Witten (UK) 6-3, 6-1|
|2) (61) Karim Benmansour (UK) def. (18) Mario Toledo (UT) 6-1, 7-6(8)|
|3) (77) Adam Carey (UT) def. (119) Evan Austin (UK) 6-3, 6-1|
|4) (82) Mark Dietrich (UT) def. (97) Johan Grunditz (UK) 3-6, 6-4, 6-4*|
|5) Simon Rea (UT) vs. (93) Gustav Pousette (UK) susp. (Tied 6-2, 3-6, 4-4)|
|6) Wade Orr (UT) vs. Rahim Esmail (UK) susp. (UK led 3-6, 6-1, 5-3)|
|Finishing order: 1, 3, 2, 4*|
|1) (22) Rea/Toledo (UT) def. (49) Austin/Benmansour (UK) 8-1|
|2) Carey/Handoyo (UT) def. Grunditz/Pousette (UK) 8-6*|
|3) Esmail/Witten (UK) def. Dietrich/Crews (UT) 8-5|
|Finishing order: 1, 3, 2*|