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Saturday, September 24, 2022

Florida tops Baylor 4-1, wins first national championship in program history

The Gators lose in doubles, storm back in singles against the Bears

Ben Shelton celebrates on Feb. 21 against Auburn. Shelton clinched the championship point for the Gators Saturday.
Ben Shelton celebrates on Feb. 21 against Auburn. Shelton clinched the championship point for the Gators Saturday.

Freshman Ben Shelton threw his racket in the air as Charlie Broom’s forehand missed wide.

Head coach Bryan Shelton collapsed on the sidelines, hands in his face. His son had just clinched the national championship for the Florida Gators.

Florida men’s tennis won its first national title in program history early Sunday morning, defeating No. 2 Baylor 4-1.

Florida dropped the doubles point to Baylor, losing on courts one and three. Finn Bass and Charlie Broom nearly swept senior Brian Berdusco and sophomore Will Grant, jumping out to an insurmountable 5-0 lead and closing the set 6-1 on court three.

Shortly after, freshman Ben Shelton and junior Sam Riffice tied the doubles point on court two as they defeated Nick Stachowiak and Matias Soto without dropping a game.

Seniors Duarte Vale and Johannes Ingildsen were locked with Constantin Frantzen and Sven Lah in the decisive doubles match. Knotted at 2-2, the Baylor duo raised the intensity and broke both Vale and Ingildsen to serve out the set and win 6-2.

Florida needed four wins in singles play to come from behind and close out a storybook season with a national championship. 

Senior Josh Goodger’s dominant first-set victory allowed for the Gators to settle down after losing the doubles point.  

Vale, Shelton and sophomore Blaise Bicknell were all defeated in their first sets. Adrian Boitan outlasted Vale 7-5 as Florida’s court-one star struggled to keep up with the Baylor ace. 

On court five, Shelton lacked the poise and concentration he showed in Friday night’s straight set victory and dropped the first set to Broom 6-3. 

Stachowiak took the first set against Bicknell 6-3, a discouraging result for the undefeated sophomore who had been Florida’s most consistent singles player. 

Riffice and senior Andy Andrade won their first sets in tiebreaks. Florida and Baylor were neck and neck as Saturday night gave way to Sunday morning. Each team led in three matches. If the scores held, the Bears would upset the top-seeded Gators. 

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But the ever-resilient Florida singles squad persevered. 

After he won his first set in a tiebreak, Andrade rolled over Lah in the second to record the Gators’ first point, 7-6, 6-0. 

The Florida fans in the complex came alive, sensing that their team was on the brink of pulling away.

Riffice added a second point minutes later as he outclassed Soto in the second set to finish 7-5, 6-3. 

After his first-set win provided the Gators with much-needed confidence early in the singles portion, Goodger closed out Spencer Furman on court six to move Florida one point from glory.

All eyes shifted to court four, where Shelton fought back and forced a third set. Leading 4-2 on serve, Florida’s breakout star was in danger of being broken as he trailed 15-40. With his back against the wall, Shelton won three straight points to take control of the set, 5-2. 

Initially uncomfortable and overmatched, the freshman rose to the challenge in sets two and three to close out Broom and displayed the signature athletic ability and confident style that defined Florida’s 2021 season. 

The title triumph capped off a stellar 26-2 season for a team who returns to Gainesville as national champions. 

The individual championships begin Sunday evening with Vale, Riffice and Andrade all slated to compete in singles. Two Florida tandems will also play in the doubles competition: Vale with Riffice and Ingildsen with Grant.

Contact Ryan Zehnder at rzehnder@alligator.edu and follow him on Twitter @ryan_zehnder

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