The stars at night will be big and bright deep in the heart of Texas this weekend when the No.9 Florida Gators (2-0) will participate in the ITA Kick-off Weekend tournament as the No. 2 seed.
But will the stars of the Gators’ tennis program shine on the court? There will be many challenges for Florida, and one arrived before the first serve took place.
No. 14 Oklahoma State withdrew from play due to contact tracing and COVID-19 protocols. It’s unknown if an athlete or someone on the coaching staff tested positive. Nevertheless, the Gators will go head-to-head with unranked Arizona. There’s no number next to its name, but the roster is deeper than one may think.
Three Wildcats rank on the ITA list: No. 50 Jonas Ziverts, No. 54 Filip Malbasic, and No. 105 Gustaf Storm. They will make the trip to Austin with a win under their belts against Grand Canyon University. Even Arizona’s reserves such as Jett Middleton and Jared Horwood, who don’t see much playing time, may reverse that after their singles wins in the Saturday doubleheader.
But coach Bryan Shelton showed little concern heading into the weekend..
“Each of our players are aware of their identity on the court,” he said. “We will play to our strengths and look for ways to make our opponents uncomfortable.”
The Gators’ arsenal of singles competitors is strong. Johannes Ingildsen is fresh off his milestone 100th win as a Gator. Freshman Ben Shelton exudes nothing but confidence on the court.. While Ingildsen and Shelton are a 1-1 duo, they’re undefeated in singles play.
This will be the first time Shelton has faced the Arizona men’s program. To Shelton, it doesn’t matter whether the opponent is a stranger or a nemesis, they still “have to keep working,” as he said on Sunday afternoon following their win.
The Gators have a lot of work to do in the doubles competitions: the Wildcats excelled in their season debut. They won all six matches during the doubleheader against GCU. Florida’s doubles, including No. 45 duo Duarte Vale with Sam Riffice, struggled against USF losing two of three matches last week.
The first serves will be at 11 a.m. Friday in Austin, Texas. The tournament begins with Florida v. Arizona and No. 6 Texas v. Liberty Saturday. The winner of those matchups will play for the tournament championship Saturday. Catch the live stream on the Texas Athletics’ website.
Contact Jesse Richardson at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @JesseRich352