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The No. 12 Florida men’s tennis team beat Miami, 5-2, on Saturday at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex, giving new head coach Bryan Shelton a win in his Gator debut. UF took the doubles point and had singles wins from the top four positions to earn the victory.
“This is the fun part of the season for us, to go out there and compete against the other teams as a team,” said Coach Shelton. “In the first one, you hope the guys are going to respond the right way and compete the right way and represent the Florida Gators the right way. I thought our guys did a good job of that today from top to bottom.”
Florida opened up with solid doubles play on all three courts. The pair of Billy Federhofer (North Miami, Fla.) and Gordon Watson (Naples, Fla.) beat Miami’s Omar Aly and William Albanese on court two, 8-1. Minutes later, Michael Alford (Tampa, Fla.) and Florent Diep (Paris, France) clinched the doubles point for UF with an 8-2 win on court one over Wilfredo Gonzales and Marco Stancati.
“[Flo and I] have been working really hard in practice every day and just trying to get better,” said Alford. “Today we just tried to execute on some of the things that we’d been working on in practice and today I think we both played well.”
The remaining match on court three was halted when the doubles point was clinched, but the Gators’ Luke Johnson and Stephane Piro led 7-3 over Miami’s Diego Soto and Henrique Tsukamoto.
“We want to play aggressive doubles,” said Shelton. “We want to get forward to the net so we’re serve-and-volleying on serve; we’re attacking second serves and trying to get forward. We’re trying to be very active at the net and make things happen rather than being passive and letting them happen. It’s just an offensive mentality.
“That’s our style of play and something we’re just going to continue to work on to get better as we go along. I think it’s a more fun way to play doubles. Guys are enjoying it, they’re having fun with it, and I think they’re developing as players. They’re learning new skills up there at the net. Most players tend to stay at the baseline and our guys are always moving forward.”
In singles, Florida took control early, winning the first set on five of six courts. Alford was the first to get off the courts, beating Aly, 6-0, 6-3, at No. 3 singles.
“Mike is a guy that makes very few unforced errors and he can also hurt you when he goes on offense,” Coach Shelton said. “That’s a good combination of not giving away points and being stingy out there. But at the same time, he takes his opportunities when they’re there to step up and get to the net and finish. I thought he did a nice job of that today.”
On court two, Piro broke serve to win the first set, 6-3, then breezed in the second set, winning 6-1. It was Piro’s first dual match for the Gators after having to sit out for the past year.
“Steph’s an artist. He has that flair out there,” said Shelton. “He’s a bit of a shot-maker and a bit of a showman, so we just have to make sure that he’s disciplined at the right times, and then we let him create when the score is right. We give him a little bit of room to be the artist. He just has a really good feel for the game.”
Watson, playing on court four, clinched the match with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Victor Mauz. After exchanging breaks to start the match, Watson broke again to go up 3-2. Both players held serve from that point and Watson took the set, 6-4. In the second set, Watson broke serve three times to earn the victory and clinch the match for Florida.
“Gordon, I thought, continued his form from last week [at the Three Oaks Shootout],” said Shelton. “It seems like he’s getting better each outing. I’m excited about where he’s going with his game. He has an idea about how to play the game now, how to serve his way out of trouble at times, and he’s looking to get forward to the net and make plays.”
Florida’s final point came from Diep, playing at the top singles position against Soto. After Diep coasted to a 6-0 first set, Soto bounced back and took a 5-3 lead in the second set after winning four straight games. Diep held his next serve and then broke serve to even the set at 5-5. Both players held serve the next two games and Diep pulled out the tiebreaker, winning the match 6-0, 7-6 (4).
“I thought I played pretty good at the beginning, really aggressive, I didn’t miss much, a lot of first serves,” said Diep. “I was in my game plan. Everything was OK. Then I wasn’t focused as much and started to miss a little bit. I lost one or two close games, then I started to think more and I lost four games in a row and was down 5-3 in the second set. I kept fighting and came back to win 7-6 in the second set.”
Miami won the final two matches, as Gabriel Flores beat Federhofer, 6-4, 6-3, at No. 5 singles and Albanese pulled out a three set win over Johnson on court six, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.
The Gators will return to action with a mid-week match against UCF on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Linder Stadium, while also hosting the ITA Kickoff Weekend next Saturday and Sunday with St. John’s, South Alabama and UNC-Wilmington coming to town.