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Monday, May 27, 2024

It's almost poetic how the No. 15 women's tennis team will be facing a bitter rival in No. 2 Georgia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tennis Championships on Friday. In a rubber match, no less.

Coming off their dramatic home win Sunday against Florida State, the Gators (16-9, 7-4 Southeastern Conference) advanced to third-round play at College Station, Texas.

The Gators split their first two meetings with the Bulldogs (25-2, 10-1 SEC), upsetting them in Gainesville 4-3 on March 13 and losing to them 4-2 in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament in Fayetteville, Ark., on April 25. Georgia went on to win the SEC Tournament title.

The third match will be on a neutral court, and UF coach Roland Thornqvist hopes it is played in the open air.

"Georgia's a fantastic team, obviously," he said. "They've got great players at every position. We played them here and played them well. Then we played them inside at the SEC Tournament, which might've been in favor of Georgia. (The wind) was blowing five miles per hour, and the committee decided to go in somehow. I'm hoping it's blowing, and I hope we play outside."

One of the most important factors for the Gators has been their home-court advantage, as the team has won 67 straight matches at Linder Stadium. Giving up that edge for a neutral site won't be easy for the team, but the women have a familiar foe in front of them.

While they stumbled in indoor matches this season, they have been stellar outside. Thornqvist attributes this to spectacular conditioning and heart.

"One thing about this crew - don't count this crew out," he said. "They've shown that. They've certainly proved that all year long."

UF has fought tooth-and-nail all spring. Six of its nine losses were decided by a 4-3 score, despite losing veteran Megan Alexander for the season and playing freshmen on courts 3 through 5.

"There have been plenty of opportunities for this team to pack it up and go home," Thornqvist said. "We lost to LSU. We lost to Ole Miss. It's easy to feel sorry for yourself and just go away, but these guys refuse to do that."

Freshman Jo Mather, who clinched the win against the Seminoles, said she is nervous but excited for her first Sweet 16 appearance.

"Roland said that this was just the icing on the cake, however we did (in the regionals)," Mather said. "All of us were just playing with all our hearts. It's just a bonus to make it to the tournament."

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