By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
The third-ranked and top-seeded Florida men’s tennis team got a stern test Friday from Alabama, but came away with a semifinal berth in today’s Southeastern Conference Championship Tournament after eliminating the Crimson Tide 4-1 in the quarterfinal round.
Forced to the indoor courts at the Ring Tennis Complex by a heavy rain just before the noon starting time, the Gators turned back a strong upset bid by Alabama to advance to Saturday’s semifinals where UF will face No. 4 seed Tennessee, a 4-0 winner of Friday’s last match against No. 5 seed Georgia.
“I kind of expected to go indoors, but it’s always hard,” senior Alfredo Perez said. “I think everyone came out prepared and everyone was ready for today. It was a good match.”
Perez provided the clinching point for Florida, and it could not have come at a better time.
The Gators (21-2) bolted to a 3-0 lead, but Alabama (17-10) kept competing and trimmed the lead to 3-1 with a five-set win at No. 2 singles.
With the Tide adding a win in the first set at No. 6 singles, things started getting a little scary for Florida, but that’s when Perez closed things out with his 6-4, 7-5 win over Patrick Kaukovaita at No. 4.
“I played well today and I was consistent for the most part,” Perez said. “It’s never easy to play a big server because it’s hard to break him. But even after some bad calls and stuff, I stayed with it and it felt good to get a W for the team.”
Sophomore Andy Andrade also came up big for the Gators.
After UF won the doubles point, he provided Florida’s first win in singles with a 6-1, 6-3 decision over Ricardo Roberto at No. 3. That gave the Gators a 2-0 lead. It was career win No. 50 for Andrade.
“It was nice to get that accomplishment for sure,” Andrade said. “For my second year, 50 is a good number. For sure it makes me happy, winning matches for the team.”
The Gators made it 3-0 a little later when No. 1 singles player Oliver Crawford finished off Alabama’s Mazen Osama, 6-4, 6-1.
Unfortunately for UF, that’s when things started to change.
After Edson Ortiz got the Tide on the board with 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win over UF’s Sam Riffice at No. 2 singles, the Tide’sa Zhe Zhou was headed for what looked like a second point with a 6-2, 3-2 lead on Court 5.
But somehow Perez mustered up the energy to fight back and close out his match.
“We just kept to the plan on what we were going to do,” Perez said. “We had a strong mindset.”
Andrade echoed those sentiments.
“It’s tennis, you know,” he said. “You’ve got to adjust a little bit if you’re playing outdoors or indoors. But at the end of the day you have to go out there and compete and just make the right decisions.”
UF will face Tennessee at 3 p.m. Saturday in the second of two semifinal matches. No. 2 seed Mississippi State will face No. 6 seed South Carolina in the first semifinal at noon. The Gamecocks upset No. 3 seed Texas A&M in the quarterfinals Friday.
SEC Tennis Championship
At Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex, UF campus
South Carolina 4, Texas A&M 2
Mississippi State 4, Vanderbilt 2
Florida 4, Alabama 1
Tennessee 4, Georgia 0
South Carolina vs. Mississippi State, 12 p.m.
Florida vs. Tennessee, 3 p.m.