Women's Tennis Defeats Duke, 4-3, to Play for NCAA Championship
“I don’t know how we won that match,” said UF head coach Roland Thornqvist, who earned the 350th win of his career, as well as the 275th of his 11-year Gator tenure. “We found a way on doubles. I like the way we have played at the end of the doubles matches so far. Starting at the SEC Tournament and through this tournament, we’ve been very good at the end of doubles making the right decisions. Today was no difference. That was the difference. In retrospect, we needed it.”
The championship appearance is the Gator’s third straight and 13th in program history, winning team titles in 1992, 1996, 1998, 2003 and 2011. Second-seeded Florida (26-1) will play top-seeded UCLA (26-2) on Tuesday at 1 p.m. in the final.
The Bruins (26-2) upended conference rival and fifth-seeded Southern California, 4-3, in their semifinal victory. This is the first time in women’s tennis history that both semifinal matches went the distance.
Florida holds a slight 13-10 lead in the all-time series against UCLA, including a 7-5 edge in NCAA meetings. The teams most recently met in last year’s NCAA Semifinals, where the Gators took the deceiving 4-0 victory en route to winning their fifth national championship.
UF vs. UCLA in NCAA Championship Matches
1983: Round of 16 – UCLA 7, Florida 2
1988: Semifinals – Florida 5, UCLA 4
1989: Semifinals – UCLA 5, Florida 2
1990: Semifinals – Florida 5, UCLA 4
1991: Semifinals – UCLA 6, Florida 3
1992: Quarterfinals – Florida 5, UCLA 0
1994: Round of 16 – Florida 5, UCLA 2
1996: Semifinals – Florida 5, UCLA 1
2006: Round of 16 – Florida 4, UCLA 3
2007: Quarterfinals – UCLA 4, Florida 3
2008: Semifinals – UCLA 4, Florida 2
2011: Semifinals – Florida 4, UCLA 0
In Monday’s semifinal, Cercone trailed 2-0 in the third set but regrouped to win the next three games and held for a 4-2 lead. The Gator sophomore then held double break-point in the seventh game, but Mary Clayton battled back to hold and jumped out on Cercone’s serve by winning the first three points to set up triple break point. The Gator sophomore, who improved to 8-0 all-time in NCAA dual match singles play, fought off all three of those and another to take a 5-3 lead. She then capitalize on her first break point opportunity in the next game as Clayton’s ground stroke sailed long and set off a terrific Gator celebration once the 3 hour and 14 minute match ended.
“This is her sophomore year, and so far she has a clean sheet in this event,” Thornqvist said. “Alex had some ups and downs in her play, but somehow, when you come to this event, she is a different player. Today she got outplayed and found a way to win the second. I didn’t see the middle part of the third set, but she was just a surgeon at the end. She put the ball where she wanted it to be at the end.”
Florida took the hard-fought doubles point, with Allie Will (Boca Raton, Fla.) and Sofie Oyen (Leopoldsburg, Belgium) defeating Clayton and Ester Goldfeld, 8-3. Duke claimed the win on court three, setting the stage for court two, where the veteran pair of Lauren Embree (Marco Island, Fla.) and Joanna Mather (Duluth, Ga.) stepped up to earn the 9-8 (7-1) victory against Beatrice Capra and Rachel Kahan.
In that deciding doubles match, the Gators dropped their serve and Duke went to the baseline with an 8-7 lead. The Blue Devils couldn’t convert and the match entered a tiebreaker, where the two teams held serve on its first respective trips, before the Gators ripped off the next seven points to earn the victory. Embree and Mather, who had their 23-match win streak halted in Saturday’s quarterfinal match, improved to 49-2 all-time in dual match competition and 53-8 overall. Embree improved to 19-0 all-time in doubles-point clinching matches.
The Blue Devils (29-3) were undeterred after dropping the doubles point, having lost it three times in their previous five matches but won the dual match each time, and came out firing on the singles courts, winning the first set on five of the six courts.
“Duke is one heck of a team,” Thornqvist said. “The first hour in singles, they were beating us to death. I thought it got to us. I was really concerned that we were going to wear down. Somehow we found a way. Somehow we found a way to get one of (four and five). I was really proud of our players. We were really down and out, but found a way to get back in the match.”
Embree was the only Gator to take her opening set, but needed to regroup after falling behind 3-0, down two breaks. The Gator junior won four straight games to get the match back on-serve and earned another break for a 5-3 lead against Goldfeld, who broke back. Embree dug deep and broke Goldfeld for the fourth straight time to win the opening frame. The then won the first two games of the second, before Goldfeld earned a break That game, however, was the only one the Blue Devil would win, as Embree won the final four to earn the 6-4, 6-1 decision and post her 17th consecutive singles win and gave Florida a 2-0 lead.
Mather then rallied for a 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory on court three against Hanna Mar, winning the final eight games to record her 18th straight singles victory and help the Gators to a 3-0 lead. Serving at 40-30 and a 4-0 lead in the third set, Mather ran off the court after her first serve and got sick, but rushed right back and nailed her second serve to win the point and the game to take a 5-0 lead en route to the convincing third-set decision.
Florida was also able to force a third set on courts four, five and six, when court one – featuring the nation’s top two ranked players – had just completed its first set in one hour and 35 minutes, with Duke taking the set 6-4.
Court six was the third match to complete and Duke got on the scoreboard when Monica Turewicz defeated Olivia Janowicz (Palm Bay, Fla.), 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. The extremely tight battle on court one also came to end, with Duke’s second-ranked Capra downing top-ranked Will, 6-4, 6-4, in three hours and one minute and the Blue Devils inched closer, 3-2.
Oyen continued to fight on court four, where she lost her serve to drop the first set against Rachel Kahan, but was able to break in the ninth game of the second set and held to force a third set. The Gator sophomore then held to open the third, but Kahan won the next five games en route to taking the 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 decision and even the team scoring at 3-all, setting the stage for Cercone’s third set heroics.
Florida, which won its 21st consecutive match, improved to 13-9 all-time in the NCAA Semifinals action and holds a 5-7 record in NCAA Final matches.
NCAA Women’s Tennis Championships Semifinals
Dan Magill Tennis Complex * Athens, Ga.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Complete Team Results
(1) UCLA d. (5) Southern California, 4-3
(2) Florida d. (3) Duke, 4-3
Final Score: Florida d. Duke, 4-3
Doubles (order of finish: 1, 3, 2*)
1. Sofie Oyen/Allie Will (1), UF d. Mary Clayton/Ester Goldfeld (21), DU, 8-3
2. Lauren Embree/Joanna Mather (22), UF d. Beatrice Capra/Rachel Kahan (17), DU, 9-8 (7-1)*
3. Monica Gorny/Hanna Mar, DU d. Alexandra Cercone/Caroline Hitimana, UF, 8-4
Singles (order of finish: 2, 3, 6, 1, 4, 5*)
1. Beatrice Capra (2), DU d. Allie Will (1), UF, 6-4, 6-4
2. Lauren Embree (9), UF d. Ester Goldfeld (110), DU, 6-4, 6-1
3. Joanna Mather (21), UF d. Hanna Mar (59), DU 2-6, 6-2, 6-0
4. Rachel Kahan (85), DU d. Sofie Oyen (61), UF, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2
5. Alexandra Cercone (79), UF d. Mary Clayton (66), DU, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3*
6. Monica Turewicz (97), DU d. Olivia Janowicz, UF, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3
*indicates clinching doubles point/dual match win
Florida Head Coach Roland Thrornqvist
“I don’t know how we won that match. We found a way on doubles. I like the way we have played at the end of the double matches so far. Starting at the SEC tournament and through this tournament, we’ve been very good at the end of doubles making the right decisions. Today was no different. That was the difference. In retrospect, we needed it.”
“Duke is one heck of a team. The first hour in singles, they were beating us to death, I thought it got to us. I was really concerned that we were going to wear down. Somehow we found a way. Somehow we found a way to get one of (four and five). I was really proud of our players. WE were really down and out, but found a way to get back in the match.”
On Alex Cercone...
“This is her sophomore year, and so far she has a clean sheet in this event. Alex had some ups and downs in her play, but somehow, when you come to this event, she is a different player. Today she got outplayed and found a way to win the second. I didn’t see the middle part of the third set, but she was just a surgeon at the end. She put the ball where she wanted it to be at the end.”
On playing an unfamiliar opponent...
“If this was any other match, I think maybe you would feel fatigued, but were playing for a national championship. If you can walk, you play. Tomorrow is going to be about quality, it’s not going to be about fitness at the beginning we’re going to have to be executing well. I think we’ll be ready.”
On practicing in warmer weather than Duke...
“I think that’s a great question. I t looked to me that duke was very fit. They made us run. I thought they wore us down much more so that vice versa. If it was wamer in north Carolina and they practiced in the hear, maybe they did because they looked prepared. That’s what we did.”
Florida’s Lauren Embree
On being ready for tomorrow...
“We’re really excited about tomorrow and to play UCLA because we haven’t played them. We know they’re a really tough team and they’ll give everything they have. I’m just really excited for tomorrow.”
Florida’s Joanna Mather
On having more experience...
“I think experience is apart of it. Even the freshman coming in have played matches, though. It is a new atmosphere. But our freshman last year handled it amazingly. I don’t think we can look at it like they have freshman and think we have a leg up on them. The amount of matches we’ve played, we know if we fight hard, we have a chance in every match we play.”
Duke Head Coach Jamie Ashworth
Thoughts on match...
“It was a great match. Every court was a battle. No.5 and 6 singles went to three sets and doubles comes down to a breaker. I couldn’t be happier with how we competed. I thought that especially because we lost to them 4-0 earlier in the season and we wanted this opportunity. This group of girls we had on the courts today completely fought their butts off for everything. That’s what we talked about before the match, was making Florida earn every point. I felt the longer we could make the match go the better off we could be. I think we did that. I couldn’t ask for anything more out of the group. Our doubles was the best it’s been since we’ve been in Athens. Our singles, they had to beat us and they had to come up with shots to beat us and on some courts they were able to do that. They are a great team. The obviously have everybody back from a team that won it a year ago. If you are going take out a team like that, you have to knock out the champion. You’re not going to win any decisions. We weren’t able to get that last one there, but I thought they did a good job. I thought we pushed them more than they’ve been pushed in a while and gave ourselves a chance. We talked about at the beginning of the week with our team that we are one of sixteen team s that has a chance, and one of eight teams that had a chance and one of four teams that had a chance. I think in that match we gave ourselves a chance and that is all we can ask for.”
On responding to losing doubles point..
“I think it tells you a lot about their character. They don’t let that get us down. They have full belief that we can win six singles matches and that’s what we talked about. Unfortunately it catches up with you, and it caught up a little bit with us today. To have to come out and win four singles matches against a team like Florida is really hard to do. I would question the last time they lost four singles matches in a match. Against Georgia we were able to do it, Virginia able to do it, but the further you go and obviously the tougher the teams and it caught up with us today. Against better teams like Florida you may only get one or two chances in a game, one or two chances in doubles and we didn’t take advantage of those, and we had them. We gave ourselves an opportunity when we came here and that’s all we wanted.”
Duke’s Beatrice Capra
“Whoever you play at No. 1 is going to tough and really whoever you play here is going to be tough match. I knew going in that it was going to be a grind with Allie (Will). I have played her a couple of times and I knew that she doesn’t give you any free points. It was definitely a long match and very physical. I thought a good job of staying aggressive and into the court. It’s much different when you are playing by yourself and playing for your team. I just wanted to win so badly for my team today because I knew we had a really good chance. I know how hard everyone has worked and I just loved this team so much and I am really proud of the way the team fought today.”