The loudest voices on the courts of the Ring Tennis Complex prefer quiet before a match.
Freshman Duarte Vale and junior McClain Kessler played at the No. 1 doubles position as the Florida men’s tennis team took on No. 13 Michigan and No. 2 Ohio State in last weekend’s road trip. Home crowds in Gainesville have only seen the duo on the No. 2 court, but recognize it for its loud cheers and pumping fists.
Nothing about the red and gray courts at Ohio State’s Varsity Indoor Tennis Center resembled…
In the hours leading up to a match, however, the two enjoy relaxing in each other’s company.
“I’ll come over to (Vale’s) room and we’ll put on some chill music and just sit back,” Kessler said of their pre-match routine. “And then closer to the match we’ll get hype and more hype.”
That hype led Kessler and Vale to an upset victory over a pair from No. 1 Wake Forest last fall, to a top-five ranking this spring, and – most recently – to the team’s No. 1 doubles position last weekend.
On Friday, the Gators defeated Michigan 4-2 for their strongest win of the season so far. Florida recovered from a slow start in singles because of an early advantage after winning the doubles point. Kessler and Vale were the reason for that advantage.
Up against the nation’s ninth-ranked doubles team, Kessler and Vale defended two match points before securing a 7-6(6) victory and breaking the tie from the No. 2 and No. 3 positions. Without the point, the match’s outcome would have been determined by the closely fought third set at the No. 5 singles position, which was not finished once the Gators clinched.
Against OSU on Sunday, the importance of the doubles point revealed itself again.
After Kessler and Vale lost 6-2 on the No. 1 court and junior Alfredo Perez and freshman Oliver Crawford defeated the Buckeyes’ No. 2 duo, the point was decided at the No. 3 position. Sophomore Johannes Ingildsen and senior Chase Perez-Blanco were unable to overcome a late deficit and lost Florida the advantage. The Gators never recovered and eventually lost to OSU 5-2.
“Playing on the road against one of the top two or three teams in the country, it’s kind of tough after losing the doubles point,” coach Bryan Shelton said. “I definitely have a lot of trust in our guys to get that win the next time.”
Shelton expects to keep the doubles lineup relatively intact with only a few small changes going into the ITA National Team Indoor Championships this weekend. Kessler and Vale will have a heavy responsibility to keep their team alive in doubles play against some tough competition.
With the new challenge, the two rely on a strong dynamic rooted in their high energy.
“I’ve played with a lot of different partners,” Vale said. “But McClain is definitely the player I have the biggest connection with. We’re hyped all the time.”