After a series of heartbreaking one-point losses on the road against elite non-conference opponents, the Florida men’s tennis team has hit its stride in Southeastern Conference play.
The No. 24 Gators (9-4, 4-1 SEC) handily defeated the No. 22 Ole Miss Rebels (7-6, 2-4 SEC) 6-1 on Sunday afternoon at the Ring Tennis Complex, capping a weekend that saw UF win two dual matches by a combined score of 12-2.
Florida has won five of its past six dual matches and is off to its best start in conference play since 2011.
"We’re starting to see that there’s no holes in this team anywhere in doubles or singles," junior Maxx Lipman said. "Everyone is playing extremely well at a high level, and if they continue to do that, there’s no reason that we can’t have a very special year."
Lipman and his doubles partner Elliott Orkin played a big role in setting the tone early for the Gators on Sunday.
After sophomore Chase Perez-Blanco and freshman Alfredo Perez defeated the Rebels’ Stefan Lindmark and Gustav Hansson 6-3, Lipman and Orkin clinched the doubles point for UF, knocking off Fabian Fallert and Grey Hamilton 6-4 on Court 2 to give Florida a 1-0 lead.
"Elliott did a great job of playing solid," Lipman said. "We both stayed within ourselves and knew our limits and really made our opponents play a lot of shots."
The Gators then transitioned over to singles play, where they received three solid performances from their underclassmen.
Perez defeated Fallert 6-3, 6-1, Perez-Blanco knocked off Filip Kraljevic 6-1, 6-3 and freshman McClain Kessler won the match-clinching singles point with his 6-4, 6-1 victory over Vinod Gowda.
"It’s just fun to see them that young, be able to come out and compete at this level and believe it," assistant coach Mark Merklein said. "They’re helping our older guys too, so yeah, we’re lucky to have them and I feel like they’re only getting better."
Seniors Diego Hidalgo and Gordon Watson were also strong, winning their matches 6-2, 7-6(4) and 2-6, 6-2, 6-0, respectively. In their final seasons at UF, the two players have been on a torrid stretch during which they’ve won every singles match they’ve played over the past two weeks.
"Mentally I’ve been playing a little more confident," Hidalgo said. "So I think that’s been a key factor for my success in these last matches."
UF hits the road next weekend to take on Mississippi State and Alabama. The Gators face the Bulldogs on Friday at 5 p.m., followed by a battle with the Crimson Tide on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Alfredo Perez returns a serve during Florida's 6-1 win over Troy on Jan. 17, 2016, at the Ring Tennis Complex.