UF's men's tennis team advances to Round of 16

Florida's No. 6 singles player McClain Kessler celebrates after defeating North Florida during the first round of the NCAA Men's Tennis Championship on Saturday. Florida defeated North Florida on Saturday and South Florida on Sunday.

Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 5:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 5:40 p.m.

Ninth-ranked Florida knew all too well that it had a tall order in facing No. 17 South Florida in second-round NCAA Tournament action Sunday, with a berth in the Sweet 16 awaiting the winner.

When it was over, the UF men had improved to 20-6 overall while winning their eighth straight match with a hard-fought, 4-0 decision of the Bulls at Scott Linder Stadium.

“I saw a confident group,” UF coach Bryan Shelton said. “First off, I'd just like to say that South Florida came out and played some really good tennis. They had a great season. That was a tough draw to face them in the second round, and I think they're a team that could have gotten through to the Round of 16 possibly somewhere else.”

The score was the same as in UF's opening-round win Saturday over North Florida, but this match was quite different.

The Bulls (21-9) were full of fire and after almost winning the doubles point, jumped out to leads in four of the six singles.

But slowly and surely, the Gators fought back to take control and keep their season alive, and will now join the No. 2 seed UF women in Tulsa, OK., for the Round of 16 next week.

“It's been a long road for this team,” senior Gordon Watson said. “We've had some ups and downs this year, but as every day and every match went on, I think we gained trust in each other and gained strength and confidence in ourselves as well.”

After winning a hotly-contested doubles point, UF took the win with victories in singles at No. 5 by Watson and No. 2 from freshman Alfredo Perez before fellow freshman McClain Kessler clinched it with a 6-3, 7-5 win over the Bulls' Ignacio Gonzalez at No. 6.

USF was ahead in two of the three remaining matches, but it was too little, too late.

“I'm just really happy,” said senior Diego Hidalgo. “This was my last match here in Gainesville. We're just moving on and taking it step by step.”

The head Gator was certainly relieved.

“We knew that it was going to be a tough test,” Shelton said. “Our guys just came in with a lot of confidence. Our doubles play, our guys are having fun playing, and when we get down a little bit, we don't flinch. We just keep playing, and I think that's the belief and the trust that these guys have in one another.”

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