By Dale Long – Georgia Gwinnett College Athletics
The first victory came on April 4, 2015. Nearly six years later – on Monday, March 15, 2021 – the Georgia Gwinnett College men’s tennis program set the all-time collegiate win streak record with its 138th straight dual match victory in front of a standing-room-only crowd at the GGC Tennis Facility.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) top-ranked Grizzlies picked up a commanding 5-0 victory against No. 14-ranked University of the Cumberlands (Kentucky).
“We have been chasing the record-setting 138th straight victory since we got to win number 100. There were times when I didn’t know if we would get to this day,” said Head Coach Chase Hodges. “Winning 138 straight matches is almost a surreal achievement. This is something that the players – current and past – can take great pride in accomplishing. We have now climbed to the top of the (all-time victory) mountain.”
During the winning streak, GGC has won six NAIA national championships and has a 180-3 all-time record since the program started in 2013. Those 180 victories have come against challengers from top NAIA, NCAA Division II and NCAA III teams. This spring, the team’s 15-0 record has included victories against NAIA teams ranked No. 2, No. 4, No. 8, No. 10, No. 11, No. 13, and No. 14 at the time of the match. There’s has also been a 6-0 record this year against NCAA Division II teams.
Freshman Alex Gurmendi was at the center of attention for two of GGC’s four points in Monday’s history-making match. First, he served out his doubles match with sophomore Jose Dugo for a 6-4 victory on the No. 3 court. The GGC tandem had led 3-1 before Cumberlands (10-1) won three consecutive games to grab a 4-3 lead. Gurmendi delivered a powerful serve on match point that his opponent hit long to clinch the doubles point for the Grizzlies and the 1-0 lead in the match.
Gurmendi’s service game also played a significant factor in his match on the No. 1 singles court. He won the opening set by a 6-3 score against Martin Barbier, the reigning Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s NAIA Player of the Week. Then, Gurmendi captured the first four games of the second set before the two players traded games. He served for the match leading 5-2.
The GGC freshman rebounded from a 0-30 hole in the game. He forced Barbier to hit the ball into the net on back-to-back points to tie the game at 30-all. Gurmendi then took the advantage after hitting a forehand that resulted in an unforced error from his opponent. On match point, Gurmendi’s powerful first serve produced a long return from Barbier – and the dual match-clinching celebration was on for the Grizzlies.
“I kept pushing and pushing to get back in that last service game,” Gurmendi noted. “I was starting to get a sense that (the dual match victory) was going to come down to my match. I hit one of the biggest serves of the match to close it out.”
He added, “It wasn’t a long point, so there wasn’t a big build-up to the victory celebration. I hit the serve and saw the ball coming back long to end the match. It was good to see my teammates running my way, jumping and screaming. The record is a pretty awesome achievement when you come to think about it and something I will remember for a long time.”
Other victories for the Grizzlies came from junior Federico Bonacia and freshman Matthias Haim, 6-0 on the No. 2 doubles court; junior Valentino Caratini and freshman Luis Gomar, 6-3 at No. 1 doubles; Caratini, 6-1, 6-0 at No. 5 singles; and Haim, 6-0, 6-3 at No. 2 singles.
“It’s been a long ride and an emotional one because I dreamed of this when I came here in 2018,” said Caratini, the nation’s No. 2-ranked singles player in the NAIA who improved to 13-0 this spring. “To set the record with guys who I consider brothers is incredible. I was very confident when I took to the singles court today.”
Hodges said, “Today we were not only playing for ourselves but for the guys that started the streak in 2015 and other players who contributed along the seven seasons of this glorious journey.”