UF WOMEN'S TENNIS

UF escapes Duke's late surge to advance at NCAAs


Published: Monday, May 21, 2012 at 8:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 21, 2012 at 8:28 p.m.

ATHENS, Ga. — Florida's quest for a second consecutive national tennis championship met with some choppy waves Monday, but the Gators' ship is still intact.

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Florida's Joanna Mather serves to Duke's Hanna Mar during their NCAA college tennis semifinal match, Monday in Athens, Ga. (The Associated Press)

The No. 2 Lady Gators (26-1) survived a furious Duke uprising in both singles and doubles and displayed resilience to escape with a 4-3 victory over the No. 3 Lady Blue Devils (29-3) at the NCAA Women's Tennis Championships.

Florida will face No. 1 UCLA — which defeated No. 5 Southern California 4-3 Monday — at 1 p.m. today for the national title.

In winning their 21st consecutive match, the Gators required a tiebreaker at No. 2 to collect the doubles point and had to claim three-set victories on three courts, including Alex Cercone's 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 clincher over Mary Clayton at No. 5 singles, which took slightly more than three hours to complete.

“Honestly, I don't know how we won that match,” said Florida coach Roland Thornqvist, whose team is in the finals for the third straight year. “We found a way in doubles. I like the way we've played at the end of the doubles matches, starting with the SEC tournament and throughout this tournament. We've been very good at making the right decisions and wanting the ball on our racket and today was no different. That was the difference in us getting the point. And in retrospect, we needed it.”

Joanna Mather was one of the Florida players who had to come back from losing her first singles set and had a rather trying time dispatching Duke's Hanna Mar, but not for the usual tennis reasons.

With a 4-0 lead in the third set, Mather felt ill, which forced her to visit a sideline garbage can for a brief spell between between her first and second serve at 40-30. After her short respite, Mather returned to nail her second serve and won the point, going up 5-0.

“I was trying to decide if I should hit the second serve, but I realized that might get ugly. So between the first and second serve, I just decided to take a little break and then come back and hit my second serve,” said Mather. “That's the first time that's ever happened to me. I didn't know what to do. I felt so much better afterward — I think I just drank too much Gatorade on the changeover. I probably distracted her a little bit — I think I'd be distracted. I sure don't want to make a habit out of that.”

Florida's only two-set victory came from Lauren Embree, who defeated Ester Goldfield 6-4, 6-1 at No. 2. The Lady Gators' doubles victory came courtesy of Sofie Oyen and Allie Will, who defeated Clayton and Goldfeld 8-3 at No. 1, and Embree and Mather, who bested Beatrice Capra and Rachel Kahan 8-9 (1).

With little time to recover from Monday's match, which took almost five hours, Florida will face a UCLA team (26-2) that was also mightily tested. Thornqvist — who earned his 275th career coaching victory at Florida — vowed that the Lady Gators would be ready.

“If this was just any other match, you might feel fatigued tomorrow, but we're playing for a national championship,” he said. “If you can walk, you play. Tomorrow's going to be about quality. It's not going to be about fitness in the beginning. We're going to have to execute well. If you're going to win any championship, you've got to walk right into it — you're not going to back your way into anything.”

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