UF men's tennis in the Sweet 16

Florida's Spencer Newman plays in a match against Harvard during the second round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 14, 2012 at 12:17 a.m.

Florida's Spencer Newman was not feeling his best going into the Gators' NCAA second-round match against Harvard Sunday.

By the time it was over, he never felt better.

The sophomore from Miami played a huge role for the No. 12 seed Gators, who turned back a feisty Crimson squad with a 4-0 win at Scott Linder Stadium that was closer than the final score indicates.

Down 7-6 and facing double match point, Newman and junior Bob van Overbeek fought back for a pulsating 9-7 win over Harvard's Jon Pearlman and Christo Schultz at No. 2 doubles to give the Gators the first point of the match after the two teams had split the other two doubles matches.

“It was big because it put them (Harvard) under a lot of pressure,” UF head coach Andy Jackson said. “I was proud to see Spencer and Bob kind of turn that one without reverting back to the way that they played before and kind of get the reward that they deserved and the team deserved.”

After UF sophomore Florent Diep and senior Nassim Slilam posted quick, straight-set wins at No. 5 and No. 3 singles, respectively, to put the Gators up 3-0, it was Newman who provided the clinching point with a come-from-behind 6-4, 6-2 win over the Crimson's Shaun Chuadhuri at No. 4 singles.

“That was probably the most fun I've had here — rally down from a couple of match points in doubles to save the point and then come back in singles and clinch the whole match,” Newman said. “I mean, what more can you ask for really?”

Newman provided a highlight reel of spectacular shots at the net in his singles win that left his opponent frustrated. Time after time, Newman would charge the net and come up with an improbable volley that would leave Chuadhuri muttering to himself.

“They're fun,” Newman said. “It's low reaction time and you just do everything almost second-hand without thinking. You're diving all over the place.

“I've been on the other side of the net before and had that happen to me, and it's not that much fun on the other side. You've just got to do what you can.”

Even Jackson was impressed.

“Spencer was great in singles and doubles,” he said. “He wasn't feeling that great physically, which actually helped him because he had to use his head a little bit more.”

Harvard came out in singles determined to bounce back from the disappointing doubles outcome, but Diep and Slilam did not cooperate by posting efficient, fast wins (6-1, 6-4 for Diep and 6-2, 6-3 for Slilam) that ended just minutes apart and put UF a point away from victory.

Slilam, who won his first-round match Friday by a 6-0, 6-0 count in 35 minutes, was rewarded with a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd following his final home victory Sunday.

“Nassim and Flo winning so easily — for Nassim two days in a row — was a huge factor in the match because it enabled everyone else to relax,” Jackson noted. “You just feel like you're going to win the match when you win those matches pretty quickly like Flo and Nass did.”

Jackson feels the Gators could be dangerous from here on out, starting with their match against No. 5 seed Ohio State (31-2) in the Round of 16 Friday at noon in Athens, Ga.

“We showed some toughness and some consistency that we hadn't always shown during the year, so I'm excited about that,” he said. “We can cause some problems if we continue to do that. It gives us some confidence, and it also shows our guys that if we are tougher and a little bit more consistent, we can beat anybody. And we CAN beat anybody.”

“We're growing,” Newman said. “That's all you can ask for – we're growing.”

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