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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

It's the moment both teams have been waiting for all season - tournament time.

The UF men's and women's tennis teams begin Southeastern Conference Tournament play Friday after earning first-round byes by finishing in the top four.

The women's team captured its 23rd SEC regular-season title and finished with an undefeated conference mark for the 17th time in the program's history, earning the No. 1 seed for the SEC Tournament.

Despite claiming the top seed, the Gators will face a much tougher draw than they expected.

No. 5 UF (18-1, 11-0 SEC) will take on No. 30 Auburn (16-8, 5-6 SEC) in a quarterfinal match at 3 p.m. on the Tigers' home courts. Auburn defeated South Carolina 4-0 in the first round Thursday.

"I think our draw is very, very difficult," UF coach Roland Thornqvist said at a press conference Monday. "For a one seed, this is about as tough of a draw as I've seen in this tournament.

"I'm hoping [Auburn is] just gonna duke it out forever (with South Carolina) on Thursday, and then we pick up the pieces on Friday."

Just two weeks ago, UF received its biggest scare of the SEC season against that Auburn team on the same courts that it will step onto Friday.

In that match, with the score 3-3, sophomore Anastasia Revzina held off her opponent in a third set, 6-2, to give the Gators the win.

Thornqvist said that during that match, his team had to overcome a couple of its players battling the flu, combined with screaming fraternity members, but he was still impressed with the way the Tigers played.

"Auburn gave us all we could handle, really," he said. "We certainly saw their talent level, and they have some players that can hurt us at spots. … We're gonna have our hands full."

Since the close win, the Gators have not surrendered a point, posting shutouts in their last three matches, all on the road.

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If UF gets by Auburn, it faces potential matchups with No. 12 Vanderbilt on Saturday and No. 8 Georgia on Sunday.

The men's team, which earned the No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament, will get a rematch with the team it faced six days ago.

No. 12 UF (13-6, 8-3 SEC) will take on No. 57 South Carolina (11-12, 1-10 SEC) at 2:30 p.m. in Fayetteville, Ark. The Gamecocks upset the Crimson Tide 4-3 on Thursday.

UF needed four three-set singles wins to squeak by South Carolina 4-3 on Saturday. Coach Andy Jackson said after that match that senior Greg Ouellette, No. 2 nationally, and freshman Jeff Dadamo, who played injured against the Gamecocks, should be able to play on Friday.

The Gators' fitness will be tested in the tournament setting, featuring matches on consecutive days. However, they should have a slight edge in that area against South Carolina, which had to start its tournament run Thursday.

"Right now, at this time of the year, you just want to make sure you got gas in the tank," Jackson said.

Should UF elude South Carolina for the second time in a week, it could potentially face third-ranked and top-seeded Georgia in the semifinals on Saturday and No. 6 Mississippi in the final on Sunday.

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