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Monday, May 27, 2024

Both Gators tennis teams will enter Southeastern Conference play with perfect home records, top-10 rankings and impressive non-conference victories.

Early Sunday afternoon, the No. 6 men’s tennis team (8-2) came from behind to defeat No. 13 Illinois (4-5) 5-2.

Following the men’s match, the No. 9 women’s tennis team (9-2) upset No. 6 Duke (10-2) with a 7-0 victory.

Duke is the second Atlantic Coast Conference team the Gators shut out, a feat made more impressive by the fact that the ACC has seven teams ranked in the women’s top-25, more than any other conference.

Duke is the highest-ranked team UF has faced at home, but the Gators came prepared.

“I told our team we would need to come out and play with great character,” UF women’s coach Roland Thornqvist said. “We did that from top to bottom in doubles and in singles.”

Thornqvist was especially impressed with No. 10 freshman Allie Will. 

Will and senior Marrit Boonstra, the No. 3 doubles team in the country, were the first to finish their doubles set and put the team in position to secure the first point. 

Will was then the first to finish her singles set, defeating No. 47 Elizabeth Plotkin 6-1, 6-1.

“Overall, this was one of the best experiences I’ve had on the team so far,” Will said. “The crowd helped us a lot. The boys' team came out and supported us.”

When the Florida men’s tennis team plays a home match, its path to victory has been to win the doubles point, take positive momentum into singles play and seal the win.

Sunday, No. 13 Illinois shook things up when it won the doubles point to start the match.

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In the unfamiliar position of needing to win four of six singles matches, UF went to work.

Sophomore Nassim Slilam evened the score 1-1 with a 6-1, 6-0 win on Court 6.

Freshman Sekou Bangoura, Jr., gave the Gators the lead with a 6-2, 6-2 on Court 5.

Bangoura was bouncing back from an 8-2 doubles loss on Court 2.

“Sekou showed a lot of composure today,” UF men’s tennis coach Andy Jackson said.  “He really came out and punished his singles opponent.”

When No. 17 junior Alexandre Lacroix gave Florida a 3-1 lead, he was visibly more spirited in celebrating his victory than any other this season.

“It was the crowd that got me into it today,” Lacroix said. “We were playing against a really good team and we wanted to continue our positive momentum into the SEC season.”

Jackson approved of the upperclassman’s show of emotion.

“There’s a time to do it and there’s a time not to,” Jackson said. “Today was the right time.”

When sophomore Joey Burkhardt defeated UF transfer Johnny Hamui, there was more to it than just defeating his roommate from the fall.

Burkhardt needed a win like this after struggling at the ITA Team Indoor Tournaments earlier this month and against USF on Feb. 21.

Sunday did not start right for Burkhardt either. He was Bangoura’s doubles partner in the 8-2 loss that set the tone for Illinois.

When Burkhardt won 6-2, 6-4, it was more than just a regular singles win: he clinched the Gators’ come-from-behind victory.

“I had not won in a few matches, and that was really hanging around in my head,” Burkhardt said.

His coach had not lost confidence in him, starting him again at the No. 2 spot.

“He can be one of the better players in college tennis,” Jackson said. “He’s going to benefit a huge amount from getting that clincher.”

The men’s and women’s tennis teams will share the same opponent to open conference play on Friday.

The women’s team hosts Arkansas at 5 p.m., and  the men’s team will face the Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Ark., at 1:30 p.m.

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