The Florida Gators men’s tennis team was 9-1 in season openers under head coach Bryan Shelton. That record dropped to 9-2 after a run-in with the No. 8 Texas Longhorns.
Florida (0-1), which is ranked No. 13 nationally, had lofty expectations after the team’s strong performances in the Fall season. However, Florida was overwhelmed by Texas (1-0), 5-2, at the Alfred A. Ring Complex Sunday.
Shelton said the team has battled with Texas in the past. The Gators beat the then No. 3 Longhorns Jan. 16, 2022, but Texas got the best of Florida this year.
“For us to battle them as hard as we did, with such a young squad,” Shelton said, “I thought that was a sign of good things to come for us.”
Fall matches don’t count toward a team’s record, but it gives players the chance to warm up before the season officially starts. And warm up, they did.
Florida’s freshmen burst onto the scene. Freshman Jonah Braswell became a leader for the team overnight. He beat four ranked opponents — a team-high — in the Fall semester.
Braswell also earned the most Fall wins by a Florida freshman in 30 years. His play moved him to No. 93 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s singles ranking and No. 43 in doubles alongside senior Lukas Greif.
The now second-highest-ranked player on Florida’s roster showed more of the same Sunday. He and Greif lost their doubles match against Texas junior Siem Woldeab and sophomore Pierre-Yves Bailly. They won only one game, resulting in a 6-1 loss.
However, Braswell went into individual play as the most energetic Gator on the court. He played Bailly again and won the first set 6-2. He fell down four games to one in the second set but came back to force a decisive 13th game. He lost the set 7-6 (4) and got out to a 3-1 lead before the final set was retired, and he was named the winner.
Freshman Gators Togan Tokac and Tanapatt Nirundorn played every Fall doubles match together. They put on a monstrous performance in the ITA All-American Championships — their first tournament together — in which they won six matches.
They were the only doubles pair to be in a winning position against the Longhorns. Florida tandem junior Will Grant and graduate student Axel Nefve lost 6-1 to Texas No. 7-ranked duo redshirt junior Cleeve Harper and junior Eliot Spizzirri.
Florida’s No. 10 ranked freshman pair was tied with Texas senior Chih Chi Huang and junior Eshan Talluri at four sets each and had a 40-0 advantage in the ninth game. However, their match was stopped because the Gators’ other two pairs lost, and the doubles point was awarded to Texas.
Tokac and Nirundorn played well in their doubles match, but both walked away with losses in the individual round. Tokac lost to Harper 6-4, 6-2. Nirundorn was defeated in a three-set match against Huang 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
“Always good to see our freshmen out there getting that type of experience so early in their career,” Shelton said.
Grant was the only Gator to win a full-length match against the Longhorns. He competed against No. 30 Micah Braswell, brother of Jonah Braswell. The junior Gator won in two hard-fought sets, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
Shelton was proud of Grant’s victory over Braswell, who he called a “tough out” and “one of the better college tennis players in the country.”
“Really proud of Will,” he said. “He's someone who has had to kind of wait awhile to have his turn out there.”
Nefve was brought onto the team as a graduate transfer from Notre Dame and opened the Fall season as ITA’s No. 34 ranked singles player. He played on court one against ITA No. 3 Spizzirri. He upset Spizzirri to win the first set but lost the last two sets, and the game, by a final score of 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-2.
Greif — a returning member of the 2021-22 team — also lost his singles match. He was defeated by No. 13-ranked Texas singles player Woldeab.
Florida lost its first match of the season 5-2. Sophomore Gator ITA No. 51 Nate Bonetto wasn’t in the lineup. He and Nefve are ranked as the No. 37 pair, according to ITA, but Grant took his place alongside Nefve.
Shelton thought the Gators didn’t play a clean enough game, something they need to improve against Central Florida Saturday, he said. There were too many double-faults and serves not put in play, he said.
“That's something we will focus in on,” Shelton said. “The serve and the return of serve.”
The Gators’ next match comes against UCF at 5 p.m. Saturday in Orlando.
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.