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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Jo Mather had only enough time to give a fist pump before being swarmed by the rest of the No. 15 UF women's tennis team after a 4-2 win against Florida State.

The freshman clinched the match against the No. 18 Seminoles with a forehand that sent the ball skidding down the sideline past an out-of-position Lauren Macfarlane and earned the Gators a Sweet 16 berth in the NCAA Tennis Championships.

The match started similar to UF's 4-1 first-round win against Charleston as Florida State struck first in doubles on Court 3, putting pressure on courts 1 and 2.

After Mather and Marrit Boonstra defeated Federica Suess and Katie Rybakova, the doubles point was in the hands of Jessica Alexander and Anastasia Revzina. The No. 25 tandem was down 3-2 early but bounced back to clinch the doubles point with an 8-4 victory on a double fault.

"We just knew if we kept setting a precedent, kept giving our presence at the net and on the baseline, that they would break down," Alexander said.

The Seminoles countered with a quick singles win, evening the score on Court 6, but Alexander put the Gators ahead and No. 8 Boonstra overcame a shaky start to beat Rybakova 1-6, 6-2, 6-1.

"(In the first set) I just didn't feel the ball, and she hits really hard, so I didn't really play my own game," Boonstra said. "The second set I just told myself, 'Keep the ball in play and try to get a rhythm.' It worked out good."

Florida State answered again with a win in No. 2 singles, and at 3-2, it was up to Mather or Barbara Pinterova to capture the ticket to College Station, Texas, home to the remainder of the team championships.

Pinterova, who won her first set 6-2, lost a second-set tiebreaker 6-7 (3), forcing a third set that never began because Mather had clinched the match.

Mather was admittedly nervous going into her first singles set against Macfarlane, who beat Mather in February. She lost her first set 6-2 but broke Macfarlane's serve en route to a 6-4 second-set victory.

"I really just wanted to beat her," Mather said. "I came out and all I could think about was the end result of the match. After the first set, (assistant coach) Dave (Balogh) came over and said, 'Breathe and relax.'"

With that advice, Mather won the deciding set 6-3.

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UF coach Roland Thornqvist said he couldn't be more proud of his first-year players &ndash Mather, Alexander and Pinterova.

"Well, the freshmen &ndash you can't call them freshmen anymore now &ndash the good thing with this year was they all had to play," Thornqvist said. "They all had to play a lot. The bad thing is they had to play through some injuries.

"There were certainly times during the year where the youngsters in particular could have lost confidence because they weren't playing at the optimal time, but all three of them showed they were tough enough to pull a comeback."

The Gators found even more motivation in a Seminoles team blog that had Linder Stadium as a pit stop to the Sweet 16.

"Certainly, they beat us two months ago, but we've won 67 straight matches at home and, frankly, beaten much better teams than the one we played today during the streak," Thornqvist said. "Maybe it gave us a little bit of an edge knowing that they simply had Gainesville as a stopping point on their way to College Station."

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