Florida had a relatively slow start to the season compared to expectations.
The preseason No. 1 and reigning national champions lost two of their first seven matches, albeit against solid opponents, which put question marks about their ability to beat other top teams.
Friday’s shutout win against No. 8 Georgia was yet another answer to those early season doubts.
The No. 4 Gators tallied their fifth-consecutive win, all coming against top-10 opponents, including two wins over the rival Bulldogs. Florida (10-2) picked up its third conference win in as many games with a dominant 4-0 win over Georgia (12-4).
Success in doubles has defined the Gators recent success.
They began Friday’s match in familiar fashion, winning their fifth consecutive doubles point. Senior Sam Riffice and sophomore Ben Shelton wrapped up an easy 6-2 victory on court one. Meanwhile, Georgia tied the score at one apiece after Nate Bonetto and Duarte Vale fell to UGA’s pairing of Blake Croyder and Erik Grevelius.
However, the Gators were able to emerge victorious after the trusted team of Mattias Siimar and Andy Andrade took care of business with a 6-4 win of their own, toppling No. 27 Trent Byrde and Philip Henning.
With a 1-0 lead, the match moved into singles play, where Georgia boasts a stacked six-man lineup consisting solely of ranked players.
Florida was unfazed early, as No. 56 Riffice cruised to a 6-0, 6-1 win over No. 40 Henning. The Gators were able to add to their advantage with the surging No. 93 Andrade winning his 124th career singles match against No. 84 Byrde in two sets.
With the advantage now 3-0 in favor of the Gators, Vale was entrenched in a battle with No. 31 Tristian McCormick. The Florida senior had just won a tiebreaker to send it to the third set. Meanwhile, freshman standout Bonetto won the first set and found himself tied 3-3 in the second. Siimar had less luck in his match, dropping the first set and quickly falling behind in the second set to Croyder.
With the other matches remaining tight, it was No. 1 Shelton who would seal the deal for the Gators.
He took down No. 19 Hamish Stewart in three sets on court one, putting the finishing touches on Florida’s win.
The Gators have now faced and beat three of the top teams in the SEC to open conference play, but they will now prepare themselves for the toughest test of all.
UF stays on the road to face No. 1 Tennessee Sunday in a battle for conference supremacy. The match will take place at 1 p.m. in Knoxville, Tennessee.
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