By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
How sweet it is!
The Florida tennis team followed up its 4-0, first-round NCAA win over Florida Gulf Coast on Friday with a 4-0, second-round victory over Florida State on Saturday, sending the Gators into the Sweet 16.
UF (23-3), the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, will return to the Varsity Courts at the Ring Tennis Complex on Saturday to face No. 14 seed Tennessee (22-7), which advanced with a 4-2 win over North Carolina State in the Knoville Regional.
“I’m just really proud of our team and our staff and coaches, just for the hard work that they put in to, number one, be able to host this event,” UF coach Bryan Shelton said. “To be able to be one of the top seeds and be able to play in front of our crowd here at home, that’s always a huge help.”
While the score of Florida’s first two matches was the same, they were quite different. UF was never really threatened by FGCU, but the Seminoles were a tougher bunch.
Florida senior Alfredo Perez finally ended the match with his clinching 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 win over FSU’s Richard Thongoana at No. 4 singles.
“It wasn’t easy,” Perez said of the Gators win. “I was going to be upset if I was up 5-1 again and not be able to finish like yesterday. But thank God I was able to stay concentrated and get the job done for the team. It’s always good to beat FSU.”
The Gators scratched out a 6-1 win at No. 3 doubles from Duarte Vale-Andres Andrade, but the Seminoles (19-11) evened things with a 6-3 win at No. 1 from Sebastian Arcila-Alex Knaff. That put the doubles point in the hands of Perez-Sam Riffice, and they came through with a come-from-behind 7-6 (7-5) win that gave the Gators a 1-0 lead.
“I thought FGCU played extremely good doubles yesterday and pushed us, and FSU did as well today,” Shelton said. “I think that really prepared us to be able to withstand the pressure there at the end of that doubles point, for Alfredo and Sam to come up with their best tennis when it mattered most.”
Then it was on to singles, where Andrade was the first to finish with a 6-0, 6-2 win over FSU’s Rana-Roop Bhullar at No. 5 to put UF up 2-0. Senior McClain Kessler then made it 3-0 with a 6-0, 6-4 win over Arcila.
With the matches at No. 1, 2 and 3 still undecided, Perez took control of his match and closed it out to advance the Gators. With his two wins Saturday, Perez moved into the all-time UF top 10.
“I wish he had four more years left,” joked Shelton. “I wish there was a way to get a waiver or something to get this guy a little more eligibility.”
Next up is Tennessee, the team that ended Florida’s 15-match winning streak and handed the Gators their lone home loss with a 4-3 upset win in the SEC Tournament semifinals April 20.
The match will be played Saturday at a time to be determined.
Women’s tennis: Florida (13-12) was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the second round after a 4-2 loss to No. 14 Kansas (21-4) at the Lawrence, Kansas, Regional. No. 2 singles player McCartney Kessler and No. 5 Tsveta Dimitrova had the wins for the Gators.