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Sunday, March 03, 2024

Florida shuts out Illinois for 12th win of season

The Gators took a short break from conference play, dominating a Big 10 opponent

<p>Florida&#x27;s Sam Riffice returns a ball against South Florida on May 9, 2021. </p>

Florida's Sam Riffice returns a ball against South Florida on May 9, 2021.

After facing and beating top-10 opponents in each of its past six matches, Florida faced a much easier matchup against the Illinois Fighting Illini to serve as a break in a tough conference schedule. 

The Gators met immediate resistance in doubles, as a split in the first two matches forced senior Sam Riffice and sophomore Ben Shelton into a crucial tiebreaker against Illinois sophomores Hunter Heck and Lucas Horve. After going down early in the tiebreaker, the Florida duo fought their way back to an 8-7 score.

Wasting no time, Riffice received the serve and delivered a perfect forehand winner down the left side of the court. 

Three fist pumps later, the Gators found themselves with a 1-0 lead. 

The tiebreaker deficit would be the most adversity Florida would face in the match, going on to dominate the singles portion and record another impressive shutout victory.

The No. 1 Gators (12-2) cruised to a 7-0 triumph over Illinois (5-9) Wednesday, extending their winning streak to seven games. Despite a less than impressive record so far this season, Illinois still had enough firepower to find themselves toward the bottom of the most recent rankings. 

However, it would not be enough to challenge the newly minted top-team in the country.

With the one-point lead in hand, Florida took all the momentum into singles, and it showed. 

Freshman Abedallah Shelbayh made his first singles appearance since January and improved to 3-0 on the season, dropping just three games in a two-set victory over Illinois senior Nic Meister.

No. 56 Riffice was able to continue his hot streak with a two-set win over Illinois graduate student Olivier Stuart, his fifth consecutive two-set victory. With one point standing between the Gators and their 12th win of the season, it was the No. 93 senior Andy Andrade who would defeat No. 62 Heck in two sets and clinch the match for UF.

With the win already secured, the Gators would continue to stack on the points. No. 109 Vale won a close first set against graduate student Alex Brown before finishing him off in the second, and No. 1 Shelton continued his great form with a two-set win over junior Siphosothandom Montsi. 

Florida freshman Nate Bonetto was the last to finish, and he would complete the shutout with his sixth singles win of the season, this time against fellow freshman Gabrielius Guzauskas.

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The Gators will return to conference play at home against No. 31 Ole Miss Friday. The match inside the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex will begin at 5 p.m.

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

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