By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
The third-ranked Florida men’s tennis team begins play today at the Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship being hosted by UF at the Ring Tennis Complex.
The Gators (20-2, 12-0 SEC), the regular-season SEC champions, will take on No. 9 seed Alabama at noon, as the top four seeds — No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Mississippi State, No. 3 Texas A&M and No. 4 Tennessee — join the action after each received a double-bye into the quarterfinal round.
Alabama (16-9) advanced with a 4-3 win over No. 8 seed Ole Miss on Thursday.
“Everyone is ready and we’re all fired up,” sophomore Oliver Crawford said. “We’re going to use the home court to our advantage, and we’ve had some good practices since the regular season ended. We’re ready.”
Please note that today’s matches have had their starting times adjusted due to the strong possibility of rain.
Both Mississippi State (Courts 1-6) and Texas A&M (Courts 7-12) will start their matches at 8 a.m.
UF will make its first appearance at noon, with Tennessee’s match now slated for 4 p.m.
Saturday’s semifinals will be at noon and 3 p.m., with Sunday’s championship match to start at 2.
Florida boasts five ranked singles players and four ranked doubles tandems in the latest ITA rating.
Crawford leads the way for Florida at No. 1 singles, while Johannes Ingildsen and Brian Berdusco are UF’s highest ranked duo, coming in at No. 24. Freshman Sam Riffice from Orlando, rotating between the No. 2 and No. 3 singles positions, finished the regular season on a 12-match winning streak and was 10-0 against SEC opponents. He is the first Florida freshman since Jesse Levine in 2007 to finish his inaugural conference regular season undefeated in singles play.
“There’s definitely a lot of positives,” Riffice said. “We’re confident because we beat every team in this tournament, but every match we played against these teams was tough. We had a lot of close matches, so we’re not overlooking anyone.”
UF last won the SEC tournament in 2016 when it defeated Georgia, 4-2, in Columbia. S.C. Florida also claimed the tournament title in 2011, the last time the tournament was held in Gainesville.
The Gators are looking to become the first team to win the SEC regular-season title and the conference tournament title on their home courts since Texas A&M, co-champs in 2015, won the tournament that year in College Station.
Florida owns a 42-23 record all-time in SEC Tournament play and has made it to the finals nine times. On five of those occasions, UF has captured the tournament title (1994, 2000, 2005, 2011 and 2016). In addition, the Gators have won 14 straight matches heading into this weekend’s action and 16 in a row dating back to last year.
“They love playing in front of our fans, in front of our boosters, in front of our families on these courts,” UF coach Bryan Shelton said. “It’s such a comfortable feel for our guys. To be able to host this SEC Championship is a privilege and an honor, and these guys take that very seriously. I know they’ll get up for every match. We’ll take them one match at a time for sure, but they’ll get up for it.”
SEC Tennis Championship
At Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex, UF campus
Arkansas 4, Auburn 1
South Carolina 4, LSU 2
Vanderbilt 4, Kentucky 3
Alabama 4, Ole Miss 3
Georgia 4, Arkansas 0
Friday’s schedule has been updated due to the weather forecast:
South Carolina 4, Texas A&M 2
Mississippi State 4, Vanderbilt 2
Florida 4, Alabama 1
Tennessee vs. Georgia, 4 p.m., Courts 1-6
In the event that the matches are moved indoors, Texas A&M will take court first, followed by Mississippi State. Florida will be the third match on court and we will conclude the day with Tennessee’s match. Seating indoors is on a first come first serve basis and we will not have live scoring or live streaming.
South Carolina vs. Mississippi State, 12 p.m.
Florida vs. Georgia-Tennessee winner, 3 p.m.
Saturday’s winners, 2 p.m., SEC Network