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Friday, April 12, 2024

Carlos Cueto won his first collegiate tournament Monday at the Seminole Invitational in Tallahassee, but it was eerily similar to a typical practice in Gainesville.

After four matches over the weekend, Cueto reached the finals only to find fellow Gator Tyler Hochwalt waiting for him. Cueto topped Hochwalt in a pair of tight sets to win the championship, 6-4, 6-4.

A Gator vs. Gator match was bizarre, but coach Andy Jackson has seen it before and told the players it was important to win the championship, just not at the expense of their relationship.

Neither Cueto nor Hochwalt played as well as they had earlier in the tournament, and their bond had an impact on their performance.

"They both played better (the day before). It's the same sort of dynamic that you see when the Williams sisters play each other," Jackson said. "It's very hard to play at a high quality when you have that sort of underlying, funny feeling."

Cueto, a freshman from Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain, was able to overpower his teammate with a strong forehand and was more consistent from the baseline. Hochwalt, Jackson said, did not play near the net enough to win the match.

The Seminole Invitational was UF's first championship of the fall. The first semester consists strictly of individual tournaments, so it is difficult to gauge how well the team will do when they begin play at the SEC Indoor Jan. 16-19.

Although Cueto is the only Gator to win a championship, UF appears to be a deep team. At the ITA Southeast Regional, five Gators advanced to the round of 32, and Hochwalt fell a few points shy of reaching the quarterfinals.

The team will spend the rest of the semester preparing for team play, but coaches can only work with the players for eight hours a week.

"Tennis players are not used to taking time off," Jackson said. "Even if the coaches are not going to be out there, the guys will play every day for hours."

Maybe Cueto and Hochwalt will be able to relive their championship match that way.

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