The Florida Gators and their perfect SEC record came down to a 3-3 stalemate with South Carolina. Only one man who stood between sophomore Blaise Bicknell and his own perfect solo record: his name was Raphael Lambling.
The second-year athlete from Paris, France, tested every nerve of Bicknell as he stayed on his tail throughout their battle. After three sets, it came down to a final game with Bicknell up 30-15 and the pressure on Lambling rose.
Beforehand, the South Carolina sophomore stated down Bicknell to celebrate his kill shot. But Bicknell let his racket take care of business the next rally and laid down an unreachable corner of his own. Then, he stared back and shrugged.
Now it was all down to the 40-15 match point with Lambling on the serve. The ball was struck over and back seven more times but then Bicknell killed it with the first chance he saw. The ball bounced just inches within the back corner again, and the match point belonged to Florida.
The No. 1 Florida Gators had already claimed the regular-season SEC crown, but that didn’t stop the team’s sideline from storming Blaise immediately after he achieved a monumental feat: the perfect season.
The sophomore from Miami, Florida, hasn’t suffered a loss since he joined the Gators in his debut season. The 2020 campaign was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Bicknell still managed to go 7-0.
Junior Sam Riffice and freshman Ben Shelton paired to secure an important doubles point and cut into an early Florida deficit.
The Florida couple won their match 6-4 after they fell behind to start the day at 3-1. Shelton and Riffice recuperated their chemistry in a quick huddle before the fifth game began, then the duo went on a takeoff.
Senior Josh Goodger and his teammate Duarte Vale assisted the doubles point lead as well after a 6-2 rollover of Carolina’s Toby Samuel and Jake Beasly. The bout was never close as Vale and Goodger maintained a two-point lead throughout the dual.
Goodger also stamped a perfect label on his 2021 singles campaign with a 10-0 mark. The senior manned the driver’s seat in the first set with a 6-2 advantage. But the Englishman had to earn the extra inch in the second with a 7-5 victory.
Now that the regular season has officially wrapped up for Bicknell and the rest of the No. 1 Gators team, they can rest until the SEC Championship tournament in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on April 19.
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