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Saturday, September 24, 2022

Gators use clutch performances to beat No. 9 Georgia

Florida looks ready for conference play after scoring 4-2 win over the rival Bulldogs

<p>Sam Riffice during a match against TCU March 17, 2021. The senior won his match Sunday against Tennessee&#x27;s Emile Hudd.</p>

Sam Riffice during a match against TCU March 17, 2021. The senior won his match Sunday against Tennessee's Emile Hudd.

Florida’s top duo of Sam Riffice and Ben Shelton almost let a crucial opportunity slip for the Gators. Serving with a 6-5 lead, they quickly lost three-straight points to go down 40 to love. 

Four consecutively defended break points later, Riffice celebrated with a Tiger Woods-esque fist pump as the Gators took a 1-0 lead that they wouldn’t look back from.

Florida men’s tennis (7-2) was able to pick up a much-needed 4-2 victory over No. 9 Georgia (6-3) Sunday. The Gators finished the ITA National Indoor Championships with a 2-1 record in their final test before the beginning conference play. 

After losing their opening match in the tournament, two-consecutive consolation wins have put the team back on track as the rest of the season lies ahead.

Prior to Riffice and Shelton’s crucial victory, the Gators and Bulldogs had split the first two doubles matches. The tandem of senior Duarte Vale and freshman Abedallah Shelbayh struggled greatly in their bout, losing 6-1. Senior Andy Andrade and graduate Mattias Siimar built upon their doubles victory against Virginia Saturday, defeating Georgia's couple Trent Byrde and Philip Henning 6-4. 

With a one point advantage, the Gators took momentum into singles play. 

Georgia would not go away easily, as Riffice, Shelton and Vale found themselves in tiebreakers in their first sets. OnceRiffice and Shelton succumbed to 7-5 losses, Vale found himself serving for the set with a 6-5 lead. However, a costly double fault caused him to drop his tiebreaker as well. 

Georgia began to put pressure on the Gators.

Much of that pressure would soon be relieved, as Florida got key contributions on courts four and six. Andrade overcame three double faults to score a relatively easy 6-3, 6-3 win over UGA senior Trent Byrde. Then, Nate Bonetto was able to put the finishing touches on a 6-2, 6-4 win against fellow freshman Miguel Perez Peña. 

Despite Georgia’s best efforts, they quickly found themselves in a hole, down 3-0 and within one point of defeat.

The Bulldogs tried to make things interesting as the sets wound down. Riffice struggled to find his serve in the second set against graduate student Hamish Stewart, allowing Georgia to score its first point with a 7-6, 6-2 triumph. Siimar, who had fought hard to force a third set, soon became the second UF victim as Bulldogs senior Blake Croyder was able to pick up his team’s second point.

Luckily for the Gators, Shelton caught fire after losing the tough tiebreaker in the first set. Senior Philip Henning had no answers for the Florida sophomore in sets two and three. Shelton cruised to a 6-7, 6-2, 6-2 win to put the Gators on top for good.

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Despite a couple of tough losses, Florida collected a number of favorable results in non-conference play, highlighted by a win over then-No. 3 Texas. The Gators have almost two weeks off before their next match, which will be the conference opener March 4 against South Carolina. The match, which is Florida’s first home action since Jan. 29, will begin at 5 p.m. inside the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex.

Contact Joshua Morgan at jmorgan2@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaMorgan37


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