Thursday March 7, 2013Florida Men's Tennis Travels to South Carolina Friday
The Florida men’s tennis team will travel to Columbia, S.C., for its second Southeastern Conference match, facing South Carolina on Friday at 5 p.m. at the Carolina Tennis Center. The Gators are coming off a 4-3 victory over Texas A&M, while the Gamecocks beat Clemson, 4-3, last Sunday.
Florida (7-4, 1-0 SEC) ended its streak of four-straight losses in thrilling fashion last weekend, as junior Mike Alford won a third-set tiebreaker for the clinching point in the Gators’ conference opener.
“Our guys, we’ve lost a few tough matches, and they really wanted to come through in our first SEC match,” said head coach Bryan Shelton earlier this week. “We regrouped and I thought the guys did a great job coming out strong in the singles. For Mike Alford to clinch the match for us at the end, when he has lost the decider a week ago against Baylor, that was nice for him to come back strong. He’s one of our consistent players, who day-in and day-out works hard, does things the right way, and comes out and competes every match.”
South Carolina (10-5, 0-1 SEC) defeated in-state rival Clemson after falling to Texas A&M, 4-1, in its league opener last Friday. The Gamecocks, ranked 34th in the latest ITA rankings, are led by junior Tsvetan Mihov, who is ranked No. 105 in singles and No. 33 in doubles with partner Chip Cox. The Gators are 23-5-1 all-time against South Carolina and have won 15 matches in a row against the Gamecocks dating back to the 2001 season.
With just one match this week, Florida has been able to spend time reviewing its last match and working on improvements for the remainder of the conference schedule.
“There’s plenty of work to be done,” said Coach Shelton. “We’re trying to get better in every area. Certainly our doubles play is something that’s important, something that we stress. We’re really teaching these guys to be all-court players and that means they’ve got to be proficient from behind the baseline as well as in front of the baseline. But the game of tennis starts with the serve and return of serve, so those are the first two areas that we’re really focusing in on – the ability to hit our targets on serves so we can get predictable returns and stay ahead of the game. The return of serve, we’ve got to continue to work on putting the ball in play. We’re really working in singles to take that return deep through the middle third of the court and start the point from there.
“Those are the first two things we’ll be focusing on this week and then continue to work on our transition play – moving toward the net and being able to finish up there. Our guys understand the process now. They understand that we’ll go through and evaluate what we did this past weekend and continue to work on the things we need to work on so we continue to get better throughout the season. We’re happy to get the win [against Texas A&M], but we’ve got plenty of work to do.”
Following last week’s victory against the Aggies, Coach Shelton said there were some positive things in doubles play even though they lost the point. In singles, Alford, who dropped the deciding point against Baylor in a 4-3 loss on February 23, responded in a big way with a three-set win in the final point of the 4-3 victory against Texas A&M.
“For Mike, he had to calm the nerves a little bit,” Coach Shelton said. “It’s tough when you lose that decider one week and then you’re in that position again. We told him he’s going to be in that position many times for us, as he’s what we consider a methodical player. He’s usually going to be one of the last guys playing at the end of the day. For him to calm the nerves and be able to play aggressively at the right times in that match was huge. I always say when the match is on the line, the player that steps up and looks to be the aggressor is usually the one that’s going to come out on top. I was glad to see Mike attack in those close moments in the tiebreaker in the third set and really get to the net and press his opponent. I thought he did a nice job of stepping up when he needed to.”
Another bright spot was the win from redshirt freshman Gordon Watson, who missed the Baylor match with an injury. Watson returned to the lineup last Sunday and beat the Aggies’ Jackson Withrow, 7-5, 7-6(6), at No. 5 singles.
“Gordon’s a talented player,” said Shelton. “He’s dealt with a couple injuries but came back strong last week and showed some toughness getting out there and playing, and not only playing but playing well. He got down in the second set, but never down very far, and he just continued to plug away and found a way to win in the end with a tiebreaker in the second set.”
Florida looks to continue its success against South Carolina and stay unbeaten in conference play. Last year, UF beat the Gamecocks, 6-1, on senior day in Gainesville. USC won all three doubles matches in last season’s meeting, but Florida responded by winning all six singles matches. Senior Bob van Overbeek, junior Florent Diep and Alford all won singles matches last year against the Gamecocks.
Live scoring for Friday’s match will be available online through the South Carolina web site.