Second-ranked Florida avenged its only Southeastern Conference regular-season loss and marched into the SEC Championship final after a 4-1 victory against fourth-ranked Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre.
Despite losing the doubles point for the ninth time this season, Florida relied on the strength of its singles play to capture its 14th consecutive win. Olivia Janowicz (Palm Bay, Fla.), Sofie Oyen (Leopoldsburg, Belgium), Lauren Embree (Marco Island, Fla.) and freshman Brianna Morgan (Beverly Hills, Calif.) won their respective singles matches and helped the Gators advance to the championship final.
VIDEO – 2Ways2Watch:
Florida coach Roland Thornqvist, Lauren Embree, Olivia Janowicz and Brianna Morgan talk about the Gator's 4-1 win against Texas A&M in the SEC Championship semifinal
“We got off to a great start again in singles,” Thornqvist said. “Olivia (Janowicz) again set the tone for us. Sofie played really, really well. Lauren was super strong against a top-10 player. We showed some character. It came down to the end in singles and Texas A&M was going to have to beat us in three three-set singles matches to win the match. They did a couple months ago so I knew they were capable of it but we were really strong pushing through the third set, especially Brianna.”
The Aggies (21-3) handed the Gators their only SEC setback and one of their two regular season losses, winning the doubles point before taking three singles matches for the 4-3 decision in College Station on March 3.
“We did not handle losing the doubles point well when played them during the regular season,” Thornqvist shared. “I thought everyone had their head on straight and came out ready to go in singles.”
After the doubles matches, Janowicz evened the team scoring at 1-all for the second consecutive match, as she was the first one off the singles court after posting a 6-2, 6-2 victory against Anna Mamalat on court five in one hour and 15 minutes. The victory was the 11th straight singles win for Janowicz, who recorded her team-leading 32nd win this season. The Gator junior won the first three games of the match and earned her second break of the frame for a 5-1 lead. The two traded breaks, as Janowicz closed the first set and began the second holding serve. There were only two breaks in the second set and Janowicz claimed both, first in the sixth game and in the eighth and final one of the match.
Oyen trailed 3-1 in the first set of her No. 2 singles match against Cristina Stancu, but rallied by winning five straight games, capped by a backhand lob for a winner on set point en route to a 6-3, 6-2 victory, as she took a commanding 4-1 lead in the second and served out for the win that gave Florida a 2-1 lead. The victory was the 70th career win for the Gator junior, who has won nine consecutive singles matches.
Embree then won the featured match on court one, where Embree, the nation’s top-ranked singles player, jumped out to a 3-0 lead against No. 4 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar. There were only four breaks during the entire match and Embree was the benefactor of all as she marched to an impressive 6-2, 6-1 victory, which was her 18th consecutive overall singles win, as well as her 36th straight dual match singles decision. Coupled with her doubles victory earlier in the match, Embree’s combined singles and doubles win total increased to 227 and moved her past Divya Merchant (1994-07) for fifth-most in program history.
Embree’s win gave Florida a 3-1 lead and the Gators appeared in good shape on the three courts still in action, as freshman Danielle Collins (St. Petersburg, Fla.) held a 5-1 lead in the third set of her match on court six, while freshman Brianna Morgan (Beverly Hills, Calif.) and junior Alexandra Cercone (Seminole, Fla.) were able to force a third set on their respective courts.
Morgan was able to provide the clinching victory – a 1-6, 6-4, 6-0 win against Ines Deheza. After dropping the first set, Morgan regrouped and won the first four games of the second. Deheza rallied and won the next four and went to the baseline to serve for a 5-4 lead. The Gator rookie dug deep and earned a break and then held to force a deciding third set and didn’t look back, as she capitalized on her third match-point opportunity.
The third-seeded Gators (21-2) will play top-seeded and third-ranked Georgia (21-2) on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET (1 p.m. CT) for the league’s postseason title. The Lady Bulldogs defeated eighth-ranked Alabama, 4-2, in their semifinal match.
“We’re excited,” said UF head coach Roland Thornqvist about playing in the final. “It’s going to be a great match against Georgia because they are really good, but so are we.”
Florida is making its 24th finals appearance in the 26-year history of the event, where the Gators have captured 18 championships, including each of the last three. This will be the 15th time Florida and Georgia will square off in the SEC Championship final, with the Gators holding a 10-4 record in those match-ups.
Texas A&M, which entered Saturday’s match 16-0 when winning the doubles point, took the doubles point against Florida for the second time this season, as the No. 22-ranked Gator pair of Embree and Oyen upset No. 11 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar and Wen Sun, 8-2, but the Aggies earned an 8-5 win on court two and an 8-4 decision on court three.
The clinching decision came on court three in 69 minutes and the first break of the 8-game pro-set came in the seventh game, where the Aggie’s twin sisters of Ines and Paula Deheza jumped in front and held for a 5-3 lead and carried that momentum for the remainder of the match against Collins and Janowicz.
Embree and Oyen won the first four games in their match on court one and earned additional breaks in the sixth and 10th games to capture the win. The victory was the 113rd of Embree’s career and tied her for sixth on UF’s all-time doubles chart with Jill Heatherington (1984-87).
TAMU’s No. 16-ranked Stefania Hristov and Cristina Stancu took a quick 2-0 lead and Cercone and Caroline Hitimana (Waterloo, Belgium) were forced play catch-up the entire match and weren’t able to recover as the Aggies captured the win and left clinching decision in the hands of court three.
2013 SEC Women’s Tennis Championship
A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre
Saturday, April 20, 2013
SEC Semifinal Team Results
 Georgia (3) d.  Alabama (8), 4-2
 Texas A&M (4) d.  Florida (2), 4-1
UF Individual Results
FINAL: Florida d. Texas A&M, 4-1
Doubles (order of finish: 1, 2, 3*)
1. Lauren Embree/Sofie Oyen (22), UF d. Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar/Wen Sun (11), TAMU, 8-2
2. Stefania Hristov/Cristina Stancu (16), TAMU d. Alexandra Cercone/Caroline Hitimana, UF, 8-5
3. Ines Deheza/Paula Deheza, TAMU d. Danielle Collins/Olivia Janowicz, UF, 8-4*
Singles (order of finish: 5, 2, 1, 4*)
1. Lauren Embree (1), UF d. Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (4), TAMU, 6-2, 6-1
2. Sofie Oyen (15), UF d. Cristina Stancu (73), TAMU, 6-3, 6-2
3. Alexandra Cercone (54), UF vs. Nazari Urbina (71), TAMU, 3-6, 6-2, 3-3 DNF
4. Brianna Morgan (95), UF d. Ines Deheza, TAMU, 1-6, 6-4, 6-0*
5. Olivia Janowicz, UF d. Anna Mamalat, TAMU, 6-2, 6-2
6. Danielle Collins (110), UF vs. Stefania Hristov, TAMU, 6-1, 6-7 (4), 6-6 DNF
RECORDS: Florida 21-2; Texas A&M 21-3
For all of the latest information on Florida women’s tennis:
Official Website: http://www.gatorzone.com/tennis/women/
Twitter: @GatorZoneTennis and @GatorZoneNews