After starting off the year with a series of strong performances in doubles play, Florida’s men’s tennis team suffered a setback against Southern California on Saturday that would ultimately cost them their fourth victory of the season.
The No. 20 Gators (3-2) fell to the No. 8 Trojans (3-0) 4-3 at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on day one of the 2016 Pac-12/Southeastern Conference Showdown. Trailing 3-0 early on, Florida would come up just short in an impressive comeback effort that came down to a decisive singles match between UF freshman Alfredo Perez and USC freshman Jake DeVine.
Florida entered the day undefeated in the doubles portion of team matches. However, things would not go as smoothly against USC.
Sophomore Chase Perez-Blanco and redshirt sophomore Joshua Wardell were put away quickly by the Trojans’ DeVine and Rob Bellamy 6-2.
The Gators’ No. 3-ranked duo of seniors Diego Hidalgo and Gordon Watson and No. 40-ranked tandem of juniors Elliott Orkin and Maxx Lipman were up and down all throughout their matches.
Hidalgo and Watson fell behind to USC’s Nick Crystal and Laurens Verboven 4-1, while Orkin and Lipman were put in a 4-2 deficit by USC’s Max de Vroome and Jack Jaede.
While Hidalgo and Watson won five of their next six games to lead their set 6-5, it would not be enough.
Orkin and Lipman won the next three games of their set to take a 5-4 lead, only to lose the next three games after that.
The two juniors fell to the Trojans’ de Vroome and Jaede 7-5, ceding the doubles point for the first time this season.
That doubles point would end up being the match’s deciding factor, as the Gators and Trojans split singles play 3-3.
Perez-Blanco and sophomore Jordan Belga were the first to finish their singles matches. Belga lost to USC’s Thibault Forget 6-3, 6-0, while Perez-Blanco was defeated by USC’s Logan Smith 6-3, 6-1 to give the Trojans a 3-0 lead.
However, the Gators would claw back once again.
Hidalgo, Orkin and Watson all won their matches in straight sets. Hidalgo beat de Vroome 6-4, 6-3, Orkin knocked off Crystal 6-3, 6-4 and Watson won over Jaede 7-6, 7-5.
But Perez lost a hard-fought match 7-6, 7-5, and the Gators were handed their second consecutive loss.
The Gators won’t have to wait long for an opportunity to rebound from this loss, as they’re set to take on No. 12 UCLA on Sunday at 4 p.m.
Diego Hidalgo returns a serve during Florida's 6-1 win over Troy on Jan. 17, 2016, at the Ring Tennis Complex.