It was a day for the record books for the Georgia Gwinnett tennis program on Sunday, and after a dominating three days at the USTA/ITA South Regional Championships, three Grizzly players returned to Lawrenceville as champions. Jordan Cox is leaving the Crescent City as the first regional champion in school history, and he’s joined by the duo of Lachlan McPhee and Connor Clements, which grabbed the doubles crown.
Cox, a sophomore out of Florida, successfully defended his No. 1 seed in the tournament, beginning by knocking out McPhee in the semifinals by a score of 6-3, 6-4. Matias Hatem was even more impressive, beating Auburn-Montgomery’s Nicolas Pinones, the tournament’s second seed, in 6-2, 6-2 fashion to set up an all-GGC final. Cox came out on top in the championship, beating the 2014 All-American 6-4, 6-2.
“This was Jordan’s second-ever event for us, and he definitely got a lot better this weekend,” GGC Head Coach Chase Hodges said. “He picked up a good level of confidence, and that will bode well going into the nationals in South Carolina. He’s got a chance to be our first-ever singles national champion.”
“I thought both Lachlan and Matias played well and tested Jordan,” Hodges continued. “Matias beat a very good player in Pinones, and for him to beat him in the way that he did was impressive.”
Cox finished the tournament 5-0 without dropping a single set. He lost just 21 games over those five matches and 13 of them were to teammates McPhee and Hatem.
“It’s always tough to play your teammates and friends,” Cox said. “But once you step onto the court that all goes away, and it’s just about trying to win. It was definitely a little awkward, but it’s a good thing to have two teammates with you in the final four too. This is all new to me because I’ve never been in the situation to play for a school or a team, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
McPhee bounced back from his semifinal loss later in the day as he and Clements combined to knock out the William Carey duo of Theo Baudin and Clement Fosse in dominating 8-0 fashion. Things wouldn’t go as swimmingly in the final, where they squared off against AUM’s Pinones and Miguel Grifol. After dropping the opening set in 3-6 fashion, the Grizzly pair rebounded for 7-5 and 6-2 victories to become the first regional doubles champions for the Green and Gray.
“The final is set up a little different because it will be best out of three in South Carolina,” Hodges explained. “Lachlan and Connor showed great composure after the match was moved indoors, and once they won that second set, I knew they would keep the momentum going. To have never played together and come out and beat two very good seniors that had been playing together for four years is very impressive.”
“They beat two of the top three seeds in the tournament, and I think they’re going to be dangerous at the national championships,” Hodges continued. “They took out the two-seed in a pretty easy match, and they just have good chemistry and play very well together. With the way that they compete, they make their opponents earn everything.”
All three players automatically earned a berth into the USTA/ITA National Small College Championships, which will take place in Sumter, S.C., next month. With wins there, they’d advance to take on the best college players across all divisions at the ITA National Championships in New York City.
On the women’s side, Valeria Podda dropped her first games of the tournament in a 6-2, 6-2 victory over AUM’s Alice Baudeign to earn a spot in the championship round. However, her run would stop there as the tournament’s No. 1 seed, Nour Abbes of Xavier, dealt her a 6-3, 6-2 loss.
“Valeria played very well today, but she just ran into the No. 1 player in the country from last season,” Hodges said. “She beat a very good player from AUM, and Nour Abbes just had a better match in the final. Valeria gave it everything she had, but the silver lining is that she’ll still be able to advance and compete for a national championship.”
Podda, who finished last season as the No. 3 singles player in the country, will end the weekend as the highest-ranked player to have lost in a regional championship match, thus earning the wild card spot in next month’s Small College Championships. Matias Hatem, who was No. 21 at the end of last year, was scheduled to find out if he will earn a berth in the same manner upon the conclusion of the rest of the regional championships Monday.
The USTA/ITA National Small College Championships run from October 9-12 at Palmetto Tennis Center in Sumter, S.C.