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Friday, January 27, 2023

Gator freshmen lead the way for men’s tennis in ITA All-American Championships

Braswell, Nirundorn and Tokac outlast their more experienced teammates

<p>Freshman Jonah Braswell competes at the ITA All-American Championships, which concluded play Oct. 8. </p><p><br/></p>

Freshman Jonah Braswell competes at the ITA All-American Championships, which concluded play Oct. 8.


On a weekend highlighted by the play of freshmen, Jonah Braswell, Togan Tokac and Tanapatt Nirundorn stepped up for the Florida Gators to outlast their more experienced teammates.

Florida had seven players earn bids to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American Championships. The team’s journey came to a close when Nirundorn and Tokac were eliminated in the semifinals.

Five Gators — Braswell, Nirundorn, Tokac, junior Will Grant and senior Lukas Greif — held spots in the pre-qualifying round, while sophomore Nate Bonetto was placed in qualifying and graduate transfer Axel Nefve automatically advanced to the main draw. The team had three duos — Bonetto/Greif, Grant/Nefve and Nirundorn/Tokac — compete in the doubles qualifying draw.

Braswell and Grant were the only players of the five pre-qualifying competitors to make it to qualifying. Nirundorn lost in the first round of pre-qualifying, Greif lost in the third round and Tokac lost in the final round.

Bonetto’s first match of the tournament came against James Madison senior Holden Koons. He made quick work of his first opponent, beating him in two sets (6-2, 6-1).

He moved on to face Ohio State senior No. 84 Justin Boulais in the second round. He, again, won in straight sets (6-3, 6-3) to advance to the third round of qualifying.

His final match of the tournament was against Duke freshman Pedro Rodenas. Bonetto lost the first set, 6-3, but bounced back to take the second, 6-4. He was eliminated when he lost the final set, 6-3, falling just one victory short of the main draw.

Braswell continued his winning ways from the pre-qualifying round, starting with a victory over Mississippi State junior No. 52 Namanja Malesevic. He won in two sets (6-2, 6-4) to move on to the next round.

He then took on Northwestern graduate student Trice Pickens, and, again, won in straight sets (6-4, 6-4).

The freshman’s final match of qualifying came against Ole Miss junior John Hallquist Lithén. He won both sets (6-0, 6-3) and didn’t drop a set in qualifying.

He found himself taking on a tough opponent in Texas A&M senior No. 50 Trey Hilderbrand to open the main draw. Braswell earned a victory in the first set, 6-3. The second set went to a tie-breaker, but Braswell pulled through and won 7-6 (3) to move on to the second round of the main draw.

Braswell’s win streak came to an end after eight matches when he ran into Virginia junior No. 7 Chris Rodesch. Braswell lost 6-4, 6-1 to fall out of the tournament. 

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His streak was the most to begin a Fall season since Duarte Vale in 2019 and the most to open a Florida collegiate career as a freshman since Johannes Ingildsen in 2017. 

Grant opened his qualifying action with a win over Tulsa freshman Timothy Carlsson Seger. He won in two sets (6-1, 6-3).

His tournament run ended after he encountered Middle Tennessee graduate student No. 61 Francisco Rocha. Grant lost in straight sets (6-3, 6-4).

Nefve saw his first action of the tournament in the first round of the main draw against Texas A&M senior No. 19 Noah Schachter. Florida’s graduate transfer managed a victory in two sets (6-4, 6-3).

He then found himself matched up against Ohio State freshman Alexander Bernard. Nefve lost the first set, 6-4, but answered with a 6-2 victory in the second set. Bernard won the third set, 6-4, to send Nefve home.

Nefve also competed alongside Grant as one of Florida’s doubles teams. The pair started play against No. 36 USC Peter Makk and Lodewijk Weststrate and managed a win (7-6 (4), 6-3).

They moved on to play Duke’s pairing of Garrett Johns and Rodenas. The Gators won the first set, 6-4, but couldn’t hold on to the lead and lost the final two sets, 6-1, 10-7, and were eliminated from qualifying doubles.

Bonetto and Greif started their doubles action against Yale’s Theo Dean and Michael Sun. The Gators lost the first set, 6-1, but turned things around and took the second and third sets, 6-3, 10-4.

They moved on to face Pepperdine’s duo of Daniel De Jonge and Tim Zeitvogel. Pepperdine got off to a quick start, taking the first set, 6-1. The Gator duo recovered and took the second set, 7-5, but couldn’t complete the comeback and lost the third set, 10-4, to eliminate them from the qualifying round.

Florida freshmen Tokac and Nirundorn went on the longest run of the Gators’ doubles teams. 

Their journey started when they played NC State’s No. 26 ranked duo, Robin Catry and Luca Staeheli. Florida’s pair won two hard-fought sets, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (10), to move on to the next round of qualifying.

They went on to play Baylor duo Tadeas Paroulek and Zsombor Velcz. The Gators came through to win the first set, 7-5, but lost the second set, 6-1. Tokac and Nirundorn won the third, 10-4, to stay alive in the tournament.

Ole Miss pair Lukas Engelhardt and Nikola Slavic presented the pair with their next challenge. The Gators lost the first set, 6-1. However, the Florida freshmen went on a run to close the match and won the final two sets, 6-4, 10-1, to advance them to the main draw.

Their first match of the main draw was against No. 48 Louisville duo Natan Rodrigues and Fabien Salle. Nirundorn and Tokac won the first set, 6-3, and despite their opponents’ 3-6 second set victory, won the third set, 10-8, to go on to the round of 16.

The pair ran into the No. 3 pair from TCU, Sander Jong and Lui Maxted. Despite being their highest ranked competition of the tournament, the Gators won in straight sets (6-3, 7-5).

They advanced to the quarterfinals and lined up across from Texas A&M’s No. 25 Hilderbrand and Schachter. Tokac and Nirundorn managed another two-set victory, 6-3, 7-6 (3), to push them into the semifinals .

The Florida freshmen finally fell in the semifinals to North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Brian Cernoch and Ryan Seggerman. They lost two close sets, 7-5, 6-4, to end their run a round before the Finals.

With Tokac and Nirundorn’s elimination, the Gators saw their time at the ITA All-American Championships come to an end.

Florida’s next competition will come Oct. 20 in Tallahassee for the ITA Regionals.

Contact Kyle Bumpers at kbumpers@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @BumpersKyle.

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Kyle Bumpers

Kyle Bumpers is a fourth-year journalism major and the sports editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he cries about Russell Wilson and writes an outrageous amount of movie reviews on Letterboxd.


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