Florida men’s tennis came into the ITA National Team Indoor Championships with high expectations.
Despite collapsing in their opening match of the season and falling from No. 1 to No. 5, this tournament presented an excellent chance for the Gators to reclaim their spot at the top of collegiate tennis.
They met a stout No. 5 Texas in the first round, an opponent they already beat earlier in the season in a hard-fought 4-3 win. This time around, the match was just as competitive. On this occasion Texas ended up flipping the score from the previous meeting, beating Florida 4-3.
It was apparent early on this wouldn’t be an easy going for the Gators. The pair of senior Andy Andrade and graduate Mattias Siimar have arguably been the most tandem for UF this season. The veterans took 21 minutes to succumb to a 6-2 defeat at the hands of Longhorns Pierre-Yves Bailey and Siem Woldeab.
Doubles tandem Sam Riffice and sophomore Ben Shelton were down 5-3 in their match. After sweeping the next game, they looked primed to mount a comeback.
However, they were shut down by the Longhorns’ Richard Ciamarra and Cleeve Harper, losing the match 6-4 as Texas took the doubles point. Senior Duarte Vale and freshman Abedallah Shelbayh were deadlocked at four, but didn’t get the chance to finish with Texas clinching the doubles section.
Siimar put the Gators on the board with a dominant performance against Woldeab, limiting his opponent to just a 48% success rate on first serves compared to 80% for the Gator representative. Florida was unable to take the lead as Sam Riffice finished next, playing tough but falling short to Texas sophomore Micah Braswell, (5-7, 5-7).
Vale and Andrade each saw their matches extend to the third set, but the two had dramatically different results. Andrade finished off his opponent with a 6-2 performance in the third set, but Vale fell by the same score on his court. The overall score moved to 3-2 in favor of the Longhorns.
Senior Josh Goodger gave his all to keep the Gators within reach of a comeback. He split the first two sets with Harper and went up 5-2 in the third set. From there, Harper rattled off three consecutive games, and the next two were split to force a tiebreaker. Goodger took quick command of the tiebreaker by getting out to a quick 4-1 advantage and ended up finishing the job to tie the overall match 3-3.
The last person left still playing was Shelton. He had beat Bailey in their first encounter just under a month ago, but the opposition put up a much tougher fight this time around. After needing a tiebreaker to win the first set, Shelton fell 6-4 in the second set. As the third set went on, both teams watched, cheering on their teammates in hopes of willing them to victory.
Shelton struggled in the final set, finding himself in a 5-0 hole, needing to win five straight games in order to give himself and the Gators a chance. The sophomore wore down Bailey and followed it up with a clutch match-point in the next game to bring the score to 5-2. It would be too little too late, however, as Bailey swept the final game to deliver the victory for the Longhorns.
The Gators will undoubtedly be disappointed with their first-round exit, but they will have another opportunity to prove themselves against a quality opponent when they face No. 7 Virginia in the consolation bracket tomorrow. The match will take place at 3 p.m. at the University of Washington.
Contact Joshua Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaMorgan37