The Florida men’s tennis team has been as hot as any program in the country over the past few weeks, winning eight of nine matches and skyrocketing more than 25 spots in the national rankings from Feb. 27 to April 5.
On Wednesday night, however, the No. 14 Gators (12-5) were outmatched, falling to the defending national champion Virginia Cavaliers 5-2 at the Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville.
"Gotta credit UVA," coach Bryan Shelton said. "Those guys are very talented … I thought they were really prepared to come out here and compete tonight, and they really showed a lot of grit and determination to get the win."
Wednesday night’s loss to the No. 3 Cavaliers (18-3) snapped UF’s six-match winning streak, as well as its perfect record at home this season. However, there were still some positives Florida’s coaching staff took away from the defeat.
"It’s another step that we’re taking," Shelton said. "Being able to see what a national championship team looks like. We don’t feel like there’s a big difference between them … (and) some of the other schools that we’ve played. There’s just small margins in all of these teams, and so I feel like our guys truly believe they can beat anyone in the country."
Florida started the day strong, winning the doubles point for the 12th time this season.
Following a 6-4 loss from the Gators’ duo of juniors Elliott Orkin and Maxx Lipman, freshman Alfredo Perez and sophomore Chase Perez-Blanco responded, winning their set over J.C. Aragone and Collin Altamirano 6-4.
That left UF seniors Diego Hidalgo and Gordon Watson against UVA’s Ryan Shane and Luca Corinteli. The two pairs battled back and forth in the set, with Hidalgo and Watson ultimately pulling out a 6-4 victory.
But Florida would not have the same success in singles, with Hidalgo the only player to come out with a victory. He did, however, defeat defending national singles champion Ryan Shane 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 for his 12th victory this spring.
Orkin and Perez-Blanco both struggled in their matches, losing in straight sets to Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and Aragone, respectively.
Freshman McClain Kessler got off to a fast start in his battle with Luca Corinteli, taking the first set 6-3. The first-year player from Calhoun, Georgia, was unable to finish off the win, however, dropping the final two sets 6-2, 6-3.
The Gators won’t have much time to recover from Wednesday night’s loss to Virginia, as they are set to face No. 7 Georgia on Friday at 5 p.m. in Athens. Florida is currently one match behind the Bulldogs for first place in the Southeastern Conference standings, and will most likely need to defeat UGA in order to have a shot at the regular season SEC championship.
"Our goals are tied to that match," Shelton said. "This team has set the goal early on that they wanted to be conference champions, and there is only one way to get that done. We’ve got to win on Friday night."
Diego Hidalgo returns a serve during Florida's 6-1 win over Troy on Jan. 17, 2016, at the Ring Tennis Complex.