Saturday April 23, 2011Gator Men Advance to SEC Tournament Championship with 4-2 Semifinal Defeat of Tennessee
The 17th-ranked Florida men’s tennis team scored a 4-2 victory in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals against Tennessee, the tournament’s top seed and the No. 2 team nationally, on Saturday at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex.
The Gators will take on 11th-ranked and No. 3 seed Kentucky in the tournament championship on Sunday at noon, also on Florida’s home courts. Admission to the match is free.
After dropping the doubles point, fifth-seeded Florida rallied to win four singles matches, clinched by sophomore Billy Federhofer (North Miami, Fla.) with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 court five victory over 76th-ranked Matteo Fago. Serving at 5-4, Federhofer fought off two break points and rallied to close out the Vols and notch Florida’s third win over a top-10 opponent this season. It also marked the highest-ranked player Federhofer has defeated in his career.
“I’m really tired, but I’m really proud that my team just fought the whole time,” Federhofer said. “I’m glad I could come through for them today, but it took all of us. I was definitely nervous, but I saw that we had an opportunity to win. I know how hard all our guys fight and how they would fight, and I just tried to focus on tennis and my tactics and not the result.”
The Gators will be playing in the SEC Tournament final for the seventh time in the event’s history (since 1990) and are shooting for their fourth SEC Tournament championship. UF won the tournament in 1994, 2000 and 2005 and also reached the championship match in 2003, 2008 and 2010.
“Our guys are really excited because we played and extremely good match against a championship team,” head coach Andy Jackson said. “We know it’s one of the best four teams in the country, and they’ve already won an SEC championship. We’ve got a chance to win one tomorrow. It was a great win for us. It was one that I feel like has been coming for a long time because of the amount of work that guys have been putting into things. We’ve come so close so many times, and they didn’t quit. Today, they got over the hump, and we’re very excited about that and very excited to play another championship-caliber team in Kentucky tomorrow.”
Florida split the first two doubles matches on courts one and three. Freshman Andrew Butz (Vero Beach, Fla.) and sophomore Bob van Overbeek (Boca Raton, Fla.) raced to an 8-1 victory over Matteo Fago and Edward Jones in 40 minutes. Three minutes later, the Vols’ top-ranked pair of John-Patrick Smith and Boris Conkic recorded an 8-2 win over UF’s 29th-ranked team of senior Alexandre Lacroix (Paris, France) and sophomore Sekou Bangoura Jr. (Bradenton, Fla.).
The doubles point outcome then fell to court two, where UF’s duo of Federhofer and junior Nassim Slilam (Paris, France) faced off against UT’s No. 52 team of Tennys Sandgren and Rhyne Williams. UF fought off two match points on Williams’ serve, but fell, 8-4.
The Gators then put forth their strongest effort of the season in singles, where they took four first sets and dropped two in tiebreakers. That fast-starting quartet held strong to provide Florida the points it needed to bring home the victory.
Freshman Spencer Newman (Miami, Fla.) recorded a straight-sets court six win over Jones in 81 minutes to tie the score at 1-1, followed seven minutes later by van Overbeek’s 6-2, 6-4 victory against Conkic.
At the No. 1 position, the eighth-ranked Lacroix broke No. 11 Smith’s serve to wrap up a 6-4, 6-3 victory and put Florida in front, 3-1, after one hour and 42 minutes of singles play.
A Gator victory was still in doubt, though, as Federhofer went to a third set and the 44th-ranked Bangoura dropped a tough 7-6(3), 6-3 decision to the third-ranked Williams on court two after the two-hour mark. But Slilam managed to force a third set against Sandgren, leaving two matches on adjacent courts playing out third sets to determine the match.
Federhofer made his move at 2-2, battling for a break and earning a 3-2 lead that he was able to hold all the way to the 6-4 third-set win two hours and 34 minutes after the match started.
“Billy’s a hard worker,” Lacroix said. “He’s coming at practice and working so hard, and I’m really proud of him and proud of the whole team. We are really a team. We really like each other, and you can feel that on the court. I’m really proud of him. I know if he keeps working like that, he’s going to be a great player at Florida.”
When the match ended, Federhofer and Slilam, who held a 3-1 lead in his third set against Sandgren, dropped their rackets and began the celebration.
More information can be found on the tournament home page at http://www.gatorzone.com/tennis/men/tour/sec/2011/ and by following on twitter @GatorZoneTennis and @MTennisSEC.
#17 Florida 4, #2 Tennessee 2
Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex
April 23, 2011
SEC Tournament Semifinals
1 – #1 Conkic/Smith (UT) def. #29 Bangoura/Lacroix (UF) 8-2 (:43)
2 – *#52 Sandgren/Williams (UT) def. Federhofer/Slilam (UF) 8-4 (:59)
3 – Butz/van Overbeek (UF) def. Fago/Jones (UT) 8-1 (:40)
Order of finish: 3-1-2
1 – #8 Alexandre Lacroix (UF) def. #11 John-Patrick Smith (UT) 6-4, 6-3 (1:42)
2 – #3 Rhyne Williams (UT) def. #44 Sekou Bangoura Jr. (UF) 7-6(3), 6-3 (2:06)
3 – #93 Nassim Slilam (UF) led #51 Tennys Sandgren (UT) 6-7(8), 6-2, 3-1 (DNF)
4 – Bob van Overbeek def. Boris Conkic (UT) 6-2, 6-4 (1:28)
5 – *Billy Federhofer (UF) def. #76 Matteo Fago (UT) – 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 (2:34)
6 – Spencer Newman (UF) def. Edward Jones (UT) 6-4, 6-2 (1:21)
Order of finish: 6-4-1-2-5
*Clinched doubles point/match victory