UF MEN'S TENNIS
Gators keep focus to make Round of 16
Published: Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 11:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 11:46 p.m.
Despite an inspired, tough opponent, a weather delay of more than 2 1/2 hours and a change of venue from outdoors to indoors, the 15th-ranked Florida's men's tennis team never lost focus in Sunday's NCAA second-round match against No. 22 South Florida.
No. 14 seed UF (17-9) advanced to the Round of 16 at the NCAA Championships in Athens, Ga., with a 4-0 win over the Bulls (19-7) that did not finish until almost seven hours after its 2 p.m. start.
The long and trying day only made the final reward that much sweeter.
“It was a long day today, but our guys were up to the challenge,” UF coach Bryan Shelton said. “I'm just really proud of the way they played.”
UF won a hard-fought doubles point, in large part due to a remarkable comeback effort from the freshman tandem of Elliott Orkin and Maxx Lipman at the No. 2 position. The duo rallied from a 6-3 deficit to knot the score at 7-all and then won the tiebreaker, 7-2, by scoring six unanswered points.
“We got off to a tough start,” Lipman said. “They got on us early and got up a break, but me and Elliott just stayed with our game plan. We were confident that we would get that break back, and when we got that chance, we took it and never really looked back from there.”
Just a few minutes later, senior Mike Alford and sophomore Diego Hidalgo closed out an 8-4 win at No. 3 to give the Gators the doubles point and a 1-0 lead.
The six singles matches got underway 10 minutes later but were halted early-on by rain, then lightning.
Play eventually was moved from Linder Stadium to the Nancy Perry Indoor Facility at the Ring Tennis Complex for completion, with action resuming at 6 p.m.
With only three indoor courts, the No. 1 through No. 3 singles took the stage first, and Lipman, the day's only double-winner, did not take long giving the Gators a 2-0 lead with a 6-4, 6-2 win over USF's Sasha Gozun at No. 3.
Sophomore Gordon Watson then put UF a point from victory with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 win over USF's Oliver Pramming at No. 2, and senior Florent Diep, ranked No. 51 nationally, clinched the win with a gutty 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 victory over the Bulls' No. 47-ranked Roberto Cid at No. 1, with Diep closing out the match with an ace.
“I knew that was my last home match, and I was really excited about it,” Diep said. “The first two sets were kind of frustrating for me. I didn't feel great, but I kept on fighting because everybody knew that was a huge point for us. I was having fun even if I was frustrated.
“I felt better as the match went along, and was feeling great in the third (set) and won 6-1. I was ready for another one.”
This marks the first Sweet 16 as UF coach for Shelton, who is in his second year with the Gators.
“It feels unbelievable to see these guys, see the work that they've put in and see them rewarded for their hard work,” Shelton said. “A lot of times in life, you can work your tail off and you don't always get the reward, and it's a tough lesson sometimes to learn. But it is nice when you do get the reward. It's validation for all of the hard work that you put in, and we've got a special group here.”
Next up, the Gators will face No. 3 seed Ohio State (32-3) Friday at 7 p.m. at Georgia's Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
The Buckeyes, winners of both the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, advanced to their ninth straight Sweet 16 under coach Ty Tucker with a 4-0 home win over Wake Forest Sunday.