All eyes were on the freshmen.
Florida freshman Olek Orlikowski won the first set, 6-1, against Alabama first-year Roan Jones. But the Crimson Tide freshman took the momentum as the second set progressed.
The Gators had a 3-1 lead, but Orlikowski’s teammates started dropping, and the pressure was on him to secure the win. Orlikowski trailed 5-3 in the final set, and Florida and Alabama were tied at three apiece.
Florida’s freshman stormed back and took a 6-5 lead, but Jones sent the match to a tiebreaker. Jones won the third-set tiebreaker 7-2 to win the match and give the Crimson Tide a victory in the Gators’ Southeastern Conference home opener.
The No. 66 Alabama Crimson Tide men’s tennis team defeated the No. 16 Florida Gators 4-3 Sunday at Alfred A. Ring Complex. The Gators held a 3-1 lead but dropped three straight matches to lose on home turf.
The Gators’ day started with a convincing victory. Florida graduate student Axel Nefve and junior Will Grant competed across from Alabama sophomores Enzo Aguiard and Filip Planinsek. Nefve and Grant defeated the Crimson Tide pair 6-3.
Sophomore Gator Nate Bonetto and freshman Tanapatt Nirundorn played Sophomore Crimson Tide German Samofalov and freshman Yair Sarouk; Florida freshman Jonah Braswell and senior Lukas Greif started their days against Alabama junior Joao Ferreira and freshman Matias Ponce De Leon.
Only one Gators pair needed to win to earn the doubles point, and both matches were tied at four apiece. Braswell and Greif fell to a 5-4 deficit, but Florida’s sophomore-freshman duo took a 5-4 advantage.
Bonetto and Nirundorn secured the doubles point. They took their final game to win the match 6-4. Braswell and Greif trailed 5-4, but their match went unfinished.
No. 72-ranked Grant was the first domino to fall in the singles round. He competed against Planinsek and lost a close first set 6-4. The second set proved even more difficult, and Planinsek secured a singles point for Alabama with his 6-2 second-set victory.
The No. 103-ranked Nefve answered for the Gators to regain the lead. He brought down the No. 63-ranked Aguiard 6-2, 6-4.
Greif played Sarouk on court six and earned an effortless win. He only needed two sets and won 6-3, 6-0 to give Florida a 3-1 lead — one win away from UF’s first SEC home win.
Bonetto — the No. 119-ranked singles player — won his first set against Ponce De Leon with ease. However, his 6-3 first-set victory wasn’t enough. The Crimson Tide freshman stole all the momentum and won the final two sets 6-2, 6-0. Alabama trailed 3-2 with two matches in play.
No. 79-ranked Braswell lost the first set against Samofalov 6-3, but he made his presence known in the second. He forced a tie-breaking game in the second set but fell 11-9 in the final game. His loss tied the match at three.
Orlikowski was the last Gator in play. He won a lopsided first set 6-1 but lost the momentum in the second. Jones won the second set 7-6 (3) and had Orlikowski against the fences in the third.
The Gator trailed 5-3 but came back to take a 6-5 lead. Jones sent the match to a tiebreaker and won 7-2 in the match-deciding game.
Alabama completed the comeback and won 4-3 in Gainesville.
Florida’s next match comes against the Ole Miss Rebels. The game will be at 4 p.m. Thursday in Oxford, Mississippi, and will be streamed via Ole Miss’ website.
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.