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Tuesday May 15, 2012Recharged Gators Take Fresh Outlook into Sweet 16

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators sophomore Spencer Newman never met a massage he needed more than the one a UF men’s tennis trainer gave him Monday afternoon.

In Florida’s 4-0 win over Harvard on Sunday, Newman dipped into an energy supply he never knew he had.

“I was so tired,’’ Newman said. “But it was a lot of fun.”

With the doubles point hanging in the balance, Newman and teammate Bob van Overbeek overcame a late deficit for an emotional 9-7 win. Newman was already feeling the effects of the hot and humid afternoon by the time his No. 4 singles match against Harvard’s Shaun Chuadhuri began.

Newman didn’t look or feel well following his all-out effort to secure the doubles point.

“It forced him to use his head a little more,’’ Gators coach Andy Jackson said. “I think that’s good for him. Most of the time you are not going to feel good so you have to bring your brain to the court – and he’s got a good brain.”

Instead of trying to defeat Chuadhuri with just raw skill, Newman strategized in ways to win the match while conserving energy and using his tennis wit. The result was a 6-4, 6-2 win that lifted the Gators into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year.

The No. 12-ranked Gators (16-9) face No. 5 Ohio State (33-3) at noon on Friday at the University of Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

Newman’s ability to dig a little deeper is a trait shared by the Gators’ roster since the end of the regular season. Florida’s season came to an abrupt halt on April 20 when it lost to Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC Tournament.

Instead of defending their SEC Tournament crown, the Gators barely had time to unpack their bags. They returned home and turned their attention to finals and the NCAA Tournament.

Once they completed their finals for the spring semester, the Gators had two weeks to prepare for Navy in the first round of the tournament. They also found their legs. They made quick work of the Midshipmen on Saturday and then trounced No. 24-ranked Harvard on Sunday.

Senior Nassim Slilam views the extra week to prepare the key component in the Gators’ turnaround.

“You only think about practicing; you don’t think about anything else,’’ Slilam said. “We turned the page and like Coach told us over the two weeks, everybody starts 0-0 in NCAAs. We don’t care about what happened before.”

During the two-week break between finals and the first round of the tournament, Jackson turned up the intensity the first week, holding two-a-days and challenging the Gators physically. The second week the focus turned more to tennis strategy and allowing the players’ bodies to recover.

One of the changes Jackson made on the court was to alter the Gators’ doubles lineup. He moved junior Tripper Carleton up to play with Slilam at No. 1 doubles and used sophomore Michael Alford alongside sophomore Florent Diep at No. 3 doubles.

Newman and van Overbeek remained a tandem at No. 2 doubles, but Jackson tweaked the way the Gators attacked doubles. He urged the Alford/Diep and Newman/van Overbeek teams to attack the net more and not hang back as much.

“I wasn’t satisfied with our doubles performance for the year,’’ Jackson said. “There is a classic, correct way to play doubles in my way of thinking. I’m pleased with the change. It was a big decision. The risk in making that decision was that we couldn’t get through regional.”

The Gators advanced and now face an Ohio State team featuring the nation’s top-ranked doubles team in Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola.

“I don’t think we can beat Ohio State without that kind of style in doubles,’’ Jackson said.

If the Gators can duplicate their performances against Navy and Harvard, Jackson is confident they have the firepower to extend their season beyond Friday’s match against Ohio State.

Slilam, Florida’s only senior, played some of his best tennis of the season last weekend, sweeping both his matches at No. 3 singles to improve to 23-13.

“Nassim has graduated,’’ Jackson said. “I just get a sense that he would really like to leave something extra behind here. I’ve seen it in the practices and matches. He was very stable emotionally, very consistent tennis-wise, very focused. His talent is unquestioned, so you combine that with good focus, concentration and consistency, he would be a huge asset for the Gators.”

Spencer’s two singles wins over the weekend pushed his season record to 32-9. He leads the team in wins and renewed confidence following his memorable weekend.

“We were ready to go. We came to play and that’s why we got two 4-0 victories,’’ Newman said. “We’re going to come to play. We’re not going to back down from anyone. That mentality helps a lot. When you lose the match before you step on the court, there is no way to recover from that.”

What the Gators appear to have recovered from is their late-season fatigue – mental and physical. Once the SEC regular-season title vanished, Jackson saw a team that needed to be recharged. Their performance the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament proved that sometimes the best remedy of all is rest.

Now, the Gators want to stay at work as long as they can.

“It’s a new season and to some degree, a new team if they are still invested,’’ Jackson said. “We won twice and that gives you momentum.”

 

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