All that could be heard at the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex on Thursday afternoon was the rhythmic sound of a tennis ball slapping the court.
Eventually, it was broken by the voice of UF women’s coach Roland Thornqvist giving pointers to All-American Brooke Austin.
It was 10 minutes before the beginning of practice, and Austin was already sweating.
“It’s the Florida way,” Thornqvist said.
“They know the life of a Florida tennis player is not to go to school, to two hours of practice in the afternoon and go home … You need to hit extra, you need to come get serves when nobody is watching. It’s just the way it is.”
It’s a work ethic the Florida tennis team embraces, and Thornqvist can’t help but notice the improvements each player has exhibited. They were especially evident at the ITA Women’s All-American Championships.
Junior Anna Danilina won three rounds in prequalifying to reach the main draw.
And senior Kourtney Keegan, in her last go-around at the All-Americans, beat No. 2-ranked Luisa Stefani 6-3, 6-3, a win Thornqvist believes is perhaps the best of her career.
She and fellow senior Belinda Woolcock won two rounds in the main draw.
“The returning players are definitely better than they were last year, no question,” Thornqvist said.
With nearly a week of play at the All-Americans, one match stood out in the final days.
Austin and Keegan reached the semifinals of the main doubles draw, but lost a three-set thriller 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 1-0(7).
“There’s a reason why (Austin and Keegan) are the NCAA defending champions,” Thornqvist said.
“And it takes a really, really good team that plays at a high level for a long time to beat them.”
But to Thornqvist, the level of play the duo exhibited will be indicative of the rest of its season. He said Austin and Keegan are good enough to have the opportunity to repeat as NCAA doubles champions in the spring.
In addition to their success, the entire team was recognized at the homecoming football game for its performance in the 2015-16 season.
Last year, Florida earned its 29th regular-season Southeastern Conference Championship along with undefeated play in the SEC (13-0).
It was the 24th time the Gators went undefeated in conference play and the sixth under Thornqvist.
“If that was a barometer, last year’s play, then we have vastly improved since last year,” Thornqvist said.
The Gators are just two days away from one of the final tournaments of the preseason.
The ITA Regionals will begin Thursday morning in Gainesville. Times and draws have not yet been announced.