Nearly everything went right for the Florida men’s tennis team in the month of March.
The No. 11 Gators (11-4, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) played some of their best tennis in years, skyrocketing up 30 spots in the national rankings. Junior Elliott Orkin won SEC Player of the Week on March 30 and Alfredo Perez garnered SEC Freshman of the Week twice on March 2 and March 23.
Most importantly, Florida got off to a torrid start in conference play, going 6-1 over the course of the month to launch itself into second place in the SEC standings.
With March now over, UF hopes to continue that success into April, starting tonight when the Gators take on the No. 43 Vanderbilt Commodores (12-9, 3-3 SEC) at 5 p.m. at the Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville.
"To get a streak going in the middle of the SEC program is pretty difficult," coach Bryan Shelton said. "(But) I feel like we’ve got the right guys here that can sustain something like this."
Doubles play has been a prime focus for Florida this week. Despite ultimately winning both matches, UF struggled last weekend against Mississippi State and Alabama in doubles competition, losing four out of six sets.
"We’ve worked on our net game, worked on our return of serves, specifically towards the doubles," Shelton said. "… but it’s just been good to be outside and play in the heat and just work on our conditioning at the same time."
The Gators are set to face a Vanderbilt team that has won four of their past five matches, including victories against then-No. 7 Texas A&M and then-No. 17 Kentucky.
Vanderbilt also has a couple of top-100 singles players in sophomore Daniel Valent and freshman Cameron Klinger and boasts a top-35 doubles tandem in Klinger and senior Rhys Johnson.
For Florida senior Gordon Watson, the focus this week has not been on tonight’s opponent, but what he and his teammates can do to be more prepared.
"Everybody has their certain things that they need to get better at," Watson said. "That’s what the coaches are here for. They tell us what we need to do and critique a couple things here and there (so we can) get back to work to get to it on Friday."
Contact Dylan Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon
Elliott Orkin returns a ball during Florida's 9-3 win against William & Mary on Saturday at the Ring Tennis Complex.