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Thursday, October 06, 2022

UF men’s tennis falls to Georgia 5-2, damaging chances at SEC title

<p>Diego Hidalgo returns a serve during Florida's 6-1 win over Troy on Jan. 17, 2016, at the Ring Tennis Complex.</p>

Diego Hidalgo returns a serve during Florida's 6-1 win over Troy on Jan. 17, 2016, at the Ring Tennis Complex.

It was an opportunity the Florida men’s tennis team has been waiting for all season.

The chance to move into a tie for first place in the Southeastern Conference standings was in the Gators’ hands on Friday night.

They let it slip through their grasp.

The No. 14 Gators (12-6, 7-2 SEC) collapsed at the hands of No. 7 Georgia, falling to the Bulldogs 5-2 at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens.

After taking the doubles point and winning four of its first six sets in singles play, Florida crumbled at the end of the contest, losing eight of its final nine singles sets to relinquish a match, damaging UF’s chances at winning a regular season conference championship this season.

“I give Georgia a lot of credit,” coach Bryan Shelton said in a release. “They came back and just continued to compete and use the crowd to their advantage. They energized themselves. Once they got rolling, they were tough.”

Senior Diego Hidalgo was the Gators’ only player to win a singles match for the second time in a row, defeating Austin Smith 6-4, 6-4. The co-captain from Guayaquil, Ecuador has been one of Florida’s top players over the past few weeks, going 9-2 in singles play since Feb. 27.

Junior Elliott Orkin and redshirt sophomore Joshua Wardell lost their matches in straight sets by scores of 6-4, 6-4 and 6-2, 6-2, respectively. Wardell was making his first appearance for UF since March 4 after freshman McClain Kessler was unable to go with a lower body injury.

Senior Gordon Watson, freshman Alfredo Perez and sophomore Chase Perez-Blanco all took the lead in their respective matches by winning their first sets. However, all three players were unable to finish off their opponents.

Watson fell to Walker Duncan 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, Perez was bested by Wayne Montgomery 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 and Perez-Blanco dropped the victory-clinching match to Jan Zielinski 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

“I think for our group right now, there is just a bit of doubt when we get in the position to close out matches and close out sets,” Shelton said. “In a couple of these matches, we are just stalling out a little bit and not playing as aggressively to close out the matches.”

The Gators’ collapse in singles competition came after a strong showing in doubles play by Florida, where Hidalgo and Watson defeated the nation’s No. 4-ranked duo of Smith and Ben Wagland 7-5 to seal the doubles point and give UF a 1-0 lead.

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The pair of Orkin and junior Maxx Lipman also topped Zielinski and Paul Oosterbaan 6-3, while Perez and Perez-Blanco lost to Montgomery and Emil Reinberg 7-6.

“I felt like our team was ready to play and they really executed down the stretch in doubles,” Shelton said. “Gordon and Diego, to clinch the point, being down a break and ultimately winning that set was huge for us.”

Florida is now two matches behind Georgia (15-3, 9-0 SEC) in the conference standings with three matches left on the schedule for both teams. For the Gators to still have a shot at an SEC title, the Bulldogs would have to lose at least two of their final three matches. UF has not won a regular season conference championship since 2005.

Next up for Florida, the Gators will be in Columbia to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks on Sunday at 12 p.m. UF has gone 17-1 in dual matches against South Carolina since 2002.

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

Diego Hidalgo returns a serve during Florida's 6-1 win over Troy on Jan. 17, 2016, at the Ring Tennis Complex.

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