The Florida men’s tennis team was on court for over four hours on Saturday, dropping a tightly contested match to No. 16 Baylor, 4-3, at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex. After falling behind early, the Gators evened the match at 3-3 but couldn’t pull out a victory. The Gators fell to 6-4 on the season and look to begin SEC play next weekend.
“That was a great match,” said head coach Bryan Shelton afterward. “I thought Baylor played great tennis, especially when the pressure was on and the stakes were the highest they played there very best. I give them a lot of credit today.”
Baylor (7-1, 0-0) came out firing in doubles, as the Bears’ pair of Julian Lenz and Patrick Pradella beat the Florida duo of Mike Alford and Florent Diep, 8-3, at the No. 2 position. Baylor clinched the doubles point when Diego Galeano and Marko Krickovic closed out UF’s Billy Federhofer and Luke Johnson, 8-5, on court three.
“I was proud of our guys,” said Coach Shelton. “We got down 1-0 and this team came at us. They were fired up. They were their own cheering section out there. They were loud and they were getting after it. Our guys didn’t back down and I was very proud of our effort and our fight.”
The Gators did bounce back, when Piro evened the match with a victory at No. 2 singles, beating Tony Lupieri in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4. Johnson finished off Galeano at No. 6 singles to put Florida ahead 2-1 overall in the match.
Baylor responded with a point from Pradella at No. 1 singles over UF’s van Overbeek, 6-4, 6-4. With the match square at 2-2, the remaining three courts went to a third set, and Federhofer was the first to pull through. After falling in an early 4-1 hole in the first set, he rallied to beat No. 56 Krickovic, 7-6 (4), 1-6, 6-4.
“Billy is resilient,” said Shelton. “He made some adjustments and picked up the emotional fight and got himself into the battle. Once he got in there he did a nice job, even losing the second set, starting so strong in the third set. He went up big early in the third, almost went up 5-1. For the [Baylor] guy to continue to fight against him and come back showed me a lot too. I have a lot of respect for Baylor and for how hard those guys fought today. To see Billy close it out in the end, that was tremendous. It was huge for us.”
With a 3-2 lead the Gators needed one of the two remaining matches with courts two and four still playing. On court four, Alford took the first set from Baylor’s Mate Zsiga, but couldn’t hold on and lost, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. With all eyes on the match between Diep and Lenz at No. 2 singles, Diep fought back after dropping the first set and forced a third, but Lenz was too much in the third set, winning 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
“Overall, I thought we did a nice job of just competing hard,” said Shelton. “Next time we’re in that situation I want to see us run through the door and get across that finish line first. I believe that we can and I believe that we will. We’re looking forward to what lies ahead with the SEC season. This coming weekend we get to play Texas A&M. It’s a new season for us and I’m ready to get started.”
With the start of SEC play next weekend, the Gators will have their work cut out for them. There are currently nine SEC teams in the top 25 and No. 14 Texas A&M will travel to Gainesville next Sunday for a 1 p.m. match. Florida will hit the road for its next five matches, beginning with a trip to South Carolina and No. 8 Georgia.
“We’re not afraid to work hard,” Coach Shelton said after Saturday’s match. “I know the coaching staff here is on a mission. I’ve got two of the best coaches that I work with in Scott Perelman and Amer Delic. We’re on a mission and I think these guys are on a mission to get it right. I feel like we’re working on the right things. We’ve just got to keep working and keep grinding and keep fighting, keep battling. It’s not just on match day. It’s every single practice day. We’ve got to eke out every single debt that we can from every single practice to give ourselves more opportunities like we had today.”