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Friday, April 12, 2024
Ben Shelton and Sam Riffice against USF on May 9. Florida handled Illinois in the Sweet 16 Monday and will play Texas A&M in the Elite Eight
Ben Shelton and Sam Riffice against USF on May 9. Florida handled Illinois in the Sweet 16 Monday and will play Texas A&M in the Elite Eight

A bounceback performance in doubles set the tone for another postseason win, as the Fighting Illini were unable to mount a challenge against the top-seeded Gators.

Florida men’s tennis swept Illinois 4-0 in the Sweet Sixteen on Monday night to move on to the national quarterfinals. 

Head coach Bryan Shelton stuck with the doubles pairings who lost narrowly to USF last week, and the move paid off. 

Each duo stood locked at 2-2 as dusk descended on the complex in Lake Nona, Florida. As the squads settled in and felt each other out, Florida’s doubles performance seemed increasingly reminiscent of their match against the Bulls. 

Illinois’ Hunter Heck and Aleks Kovacevic overpowered sophomore Will Grant and senior Brian Berdusco on court three, defeating the Florida tandem 6-4 to notch the first victory in the doubles point for the Illini, the Gators seemingly ready to relive their past troubles.

Freshman Ben Shelton and junior Sam Riffice held off Siphosothando Montsi and Noe Khlif to win 6-3 on court two. Shelton and Riffice looked determined to put their team on the front foot in the Sweet Sixteen after a tiebreak loss in the Round of 32. In the set-winning point, Shelton smashed three successive overhead shots, the third of which buckled the Illinois defense, tying the category 1-1.

Teammates watched with bated breath as seniors Duarte Vale and Johannes Ingildsen finished off Illinois’ strongest pairing of Alex Brown and Zeke Clark 6-4 to earn the first point of the match for Florida. In a high-skill contest, Vale and Ingildsen successfully varied the depth of their shots at both net and baseline and displayed the finesse the Gators typically reserve for the singles portion.

In singles, coach Shelton made a single change to the sixsome that defeated USF in straight sets in the Round of 32. Sophomore Blaise Bicknell replaced junior Lukas Greif and started on court four for Florida. 

Having won the doubles point, the Gators needed just three wins in singles to punch their ticket to the Elite Eight. 

Vale, Bicknell and seniors Josh Goodger and Andy Andrade took their first sets comfortably, while Shelton dropped. Riffice initially looked out of sorts on court two and fell behind 5-1 before storming back to snatch the first set in a dramatic tiebreak.

On court six, Goodger quickly finished off Khlif 6-1, 6-3 to earn Florida’s second point. The senior anchor extends his undefeated record in singles play to 8-0. 

Soon after, Andrade notched Florida’s penultimate point, defeating Alex Brown in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3.

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In his return to the singles lineup, Bicknell downed Clark 6-3, 6-3 on court four to cap off a Florida sweep. The sophomore remains undefeated in singles play on the year, moving to 17-0.

The Gators are set for a third match with Texas A&M in the Elite Eight Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Florida is 2-0 against the Aggies on the year and will look to extend their winning streak to reach the Final Four.

Contact Ryan Zehnder at and follow him on Twitter @ryan_zehnder

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