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Friday February 22, 2013Men's Tennis Hosts No. 20 Baylor Saturday at 1 p.m.

Gainesville, Fla.

The Florida men’s tennis team returns to Gainesville this weekend for a home match against No. 20 Baylor on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex. The Gators look to bounce back after a tough trip to Seattle for the ITA National Indoor Championships, losing three matches to top-25 opponents.


“I think the thing that we take out of [last weekend] is a sense of urgency,” said head coach Bryan Shelton. “For our team, we’ve got to get more out of every practice. It was good for our coaching staff to see what the level of competition is in the SEC, since we had seven teams [at the ITA National Indoors]. We were really able to look at those teams and I think that’s going to be able to help us as we make game plans for every match that we have.”


Florida will be looking forward to returning to Linder Stadium and playing outside after three losses in Seattle on indoor courts. The style of play that the Gators’ employ is better suited to outdoor courts and Coach Shelton feels his team’s strengths fit the outdoor game better that the fast courts of the indoor game.


“When we’re playing at home or playing outside, we like to elevate the ball in in certain situations and get the ball up higher out of the strike zone,” said Coach Shelton. “Whether it’s with our serve and we hit kick serves and get it up out of the strike zone to set up the next play, or with our forehands to get the ball up and out of the zone and push people back off the court and open up space.


“That’s something that we weren’t able to do indoors. Indoors you tend to see guys that hit through the court have more success, guys who keep the ball lower more consistently and are comfortable with that. We don’t have too many of those guys on our team. I think that makes it a little more difficult for us to adapt and play our best tennis indoors.”


The Gators struggled in both singles and doubles in Seattle, losing the doubles point in all three matches and winning just one singles point in each match. In the opening round loss to No. 5 Pepperdine, junior Mike Alford was the only UF player to pick up a win, beating Mousheg Hovhannisyan, 6-2, 6-3. Senior Billy Federhofer won at No. 6 singles in the loss to No. 11 California, and redshirt freshman Gordon Watson pulled out a three-set win for the only point against No. 24 Washington.


“I don’t want to make excuses for our guys, because in tennis you’ve got to have enough tools that you can adapt based on the player that you’re playing against, based on the conditions that you’re playing in,” said Shelton. “We’ve got to get better. No doubt about it. I think the strength of our team right now is based more around being able to elevate the ball and then to be able to apply pressure from there. That’s one of the things that we weren’t able to do inside.”


Florida hopes that those strengths shine through this weekend with another hard test against Baylor, who’s only loss came on the road at No. 17 Tulsa. The Bears enter Saturday with a four-match win streak after beating North Florida on Thursday in Jacksonville. Baylor has three players ranked in singles – No. 56 Marko Krickovic, No. 59 Julian Lenz and No. 76 Mate Zsiga.


“We obviously have a tough test on Saturday with Baylor, who’s a great team,” said Coach Shelton. “We get another quality match outside the conference. All these matches will only help us as we move forward into conference play. We’ll certainly be battle-tested and we know where we’ve broken down so we can really focus in on those areas and improve them. If you’re not tested and you don’t know where you break down under pressure, then you’re operating in a scary place because it’s unknown. It’s better to know, because then you can do something about it.”


The Gators have three players ranked in singles – No. 36 Florent Diep, No. 78 Bob van Overbeek and No. 108 Stephane Piro – and the duo of Alford and Diep rank No. 46 in doubles. Alford has also played well in singles lately, losing just one of his last nine matches, while Watson has just one loss in his previous 11 matches.


“Last weekend was a motivator for our players,” said Shelton. “Nobody likes to lose, and you certainly don’t like to lose three consecutive matches. I think that was a motivator for us to keep working, and understand that nothing’s going to be given to us, especially in the SEC. For us, we gained some good experience. We got three quality matches, where we were pushed past the limit. That’s only going to help us as we move forward into the conference.”


There have been 11 meetings in the overall series between Florida and Baylor, with the Gators holding a 6-5 edge. Last year, UF won 6-1 in Waco over the Bears and Florida has won four of the past five meetings between the two teams.


Saturday marks the Gators’ final non-conference match before Southeastern Conference play begins. Texas A&M will make its first visit to Gainesville as a member of the SEC on Sunday, March 3 with the match scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. After facing the Aggies, UF will hit the road for its next five SEC matches and will not play at home again until Friday, March 29 against LSU.

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