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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Florida men's tennis remains unbeaten at home with 7-0 win over Auburn

<p>Chase Perez-Blanco had an emotion-filled evening as he was one of three seniors honored at Florida's Senior Day match against Alabama. He won his singles set and helped set the tone for a sweep of the Crimson Tide on Friday. </p>

Chase Perez-Blanco had an emotion-filled evening as he was one of three seniors honored at Florida's Senior Day match against Alabama. He won his singles set and helped set the tone for a sweep of the Crimson Tide on Friday. 

The Florida men’s tennis team has not had much trouble defeating opponents in front of their home crowd in 2016, winning their first four matches at the Ring Tennis Complex by a combined score of 27-1 this spring.

No. 25 Florida (7-4, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) continued that dominance on Friday night, crushing No. 64 Auburn (8-6, 0-3 SEC) 7-0 in Gainesville to beat the Tigers in a dual match for the eighth time since 2010.

“It was so good to have a win like this tonight,” coach Bryan Shelton said. “Every match in the SEC is very tough. Auburn is a very good team and a well coached team, and they came in here with a lot of fight … so I’m just really proud of my guys for their effort and their play tonight.”

The Gators received impressive performances from every spot in the lineup, winning all 14 singles and doubles sets that were played to completion.

In doubles competition, UF seniors Diego Hidalgo and Gordon Watson outplayed Auburn’s Marko Krickovic and Edward Nguyen, handily beating the Tigers’ only ranked doubles tandem 6-1.

Sophomore Chase Perez-Blanco and freshman Alfredo Perez played just as well against Brandon Laubser and Conner Huertas on Court 3, winning their set 6-2 and giving Florida an early 1-0 lead.

For Hidalgo and Watson, their doubles victory came off the heels of a three-match losing streak that ran from Feb. 21 to March 4 while they were the No. 1-ranked pair in the country.

”I think they wanted to prove the point that ‘we do belong at the top of the rankings’ and so they lost maybe a little bit of their focus,” Shelton said. “They’ve regained it. Like true champions do, they’ve found a way to get back to where they were and now they just want to continue to work and get better.”

In singles play, the Gators received another boost of energy from freshman McClain Kessler, who was constantly pumping up the crowd and his teammates with shouts of “Come on!” each time he won a big point.

“I like to play with a lot of energy, and if I don’t have energy, I can’t play,” Kessler said. “It’s plain and simple.”

Kessler won his match easily, beating Joseph Van Dooren 6-2, 6-4. Perez-Blanco and junior Elliott Orkin would follow suit, defeating their opponents 6-2, 6-2 and 6-4, 6-4, respectively, to clinch the win for Florida.

Orkin’s match-clinching point on Friday was his third of the season, making the co-captain from Marietta, Georgia, the team leader in that statistic.

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Hidalgo, Watson and Perez were the final three Gators to finish their matches. Hidalgo defeated Max Hinnisdaels 6-1, 7-5, Watson knocked off Brandon Laubser 7-6, 6-3 and Perez completed the 7-0 sweep against the Tigers with a 6-3, 7-6 victory over Dante Saleh.

Perez has not disappointed in his debut season, going 13-2 in singles and doubles matches combined so far this spring. His 86.7-percent winning percentage in dual matches is the highest rate of anyone on the team.

“I think he can be an all-time great here,” coach Shelton said. “He’s special.”

Perez has recently replaced redshirt sophomore Joshua Wardell as Perez-Blanco’s partner in the third slot of the doubles lineup. The two have played together with great chemistry since the switch, and are 4-0 as a duo this spring.

“I’ve known Alfredo for a while so we have a good relationship,” Perez-Blanco said. “He’s a jokester and he’s a lot of fun to play with. He’s always making me laugh.”

The Gators will continue their current home stand next weekend, facing Arkansas on Friday at 5 p.m. and Ole Miss on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Contact Dylan Dixon at ddixon@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.

Chase Perez-Blanco had an emotion-filled evening as he was one of three seniors honored at Florida's Senior Day match against Alabama. He won his singles set and helped set the tone for a sweep of the Crimson Tide on Friday. 

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