Wednesday April 20, 2011Florida Prepares to Host 2011 Men's Tennis SEC Tournament
The 17th-ranked Florida men’s tennis team is set to host the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the first time since 1999 beginning Thursday, April 21, through Sunday, April 24. All matches at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex are free. Play begins at 9 a.m. on Thursday, and the fifth-seeded Gators first take the courts at 3 p.m. on Thursday to face Arkansas.
“We’re really eager to play the SEC Tournament this weekend,” head coach Andy Jackson said. “We’ll try to gain some confidence, gain a chance to host an NCAA Regional and, more importantly, make some progress in developing our team so that when the NCAA Tournament rolls around we’ll be playing our best.
“The league is extremely good – a lot of good coaches, a lot of good players. Everybody is on the same page getting ready for the NCAA Tournament. It’s a knock-down, drag-out SEC event. We’re really excited about it.”
Florida enters the event with a 14-8 record, including 7-4 in the SEC, and the SEC Tournament features six of the nation’s top 20 teams, nine schools in the top 35 and 10 likely NCAA Tournament squads. The Gators’ all-time record in the event, which began in 1990, is 29-18, winning the tournament three times (1994, 2000 and 2005) and reaching the championship match an additional three times (2003, 2008 and 2010).
UF defeated the Razorbacks, 7-0, in the teams’ regular-season meeting on March 6 in Gainesville. Arkansas, the 12th seed, comes into the match with a 7-16 record and 0-11 in the SEC.
“I don’t have to do too much reminding our guys that we can lose,” Jackson said. “If I do, then they’re not very smart, and they actually are very smart guys. We’re going to be ready on Thursday. Arkansas is playing for a chance to get into the NCAA Tournament, and we’re playing for a chance to host. So we’re going to be ready, and I’m sure Arkansas is going to be ready.”
Florida and Arkansas have met just once previously in the SEC Tournament, a 4-3 first-round UF victory in 1997 in Columbia, S.C.
As the No. 5 seed, the Gators just missed out on one of the four byes handed out to the top four regular-season finishers, meaning that Florida must win four matches in four days to claim the tournament championship.
“We’re really eager to have that problem,” Jackson said. “If we look at it like we have to win four matches in four days, we’re going to lose the first day and we’re not going to have that problem. We’re going to look at it like we hope that problem comes up. We’ve got confidence in our conditioning, and we’ll cross that bridge if it comes up. We’re going to try very hard to have that bridge come up.”
The Gators are looking forward to having the home crowd behind them as they attempt to make that run.
“It’s very exciting because it’s obviously a lot of fun to play in front of your fans,” sophomore Billy Federhofer (North Miami, Fla.) said. “The fans have been great so far, and I’m just excited for the opportunity with my team to play these really good SEC teams.”
“I know it’s not going to be back here while I’m here, so it’s really exciting to play in front of our fans,” freshman Andrew Butz (Vero Beach, Fla.) added.
But even with the advantage of hosting the SEC Tournament, Jackson pointed out that the result comes from what happens on the court, not whose court it happens on.
“I think it would be disingenuous for me to say that we’re not pleased to be hosting,” Jackson said. “We’re really excited to be playing at home. The thing that is fool’s gold with young people is if you think, ‘OK, we’re playing at home. That means we’re going to win.’ … The team that’s going to win the SEC Tournament is the team that plays the best tennis. That could be us. It won’t be because we’re hosting.”