The final chapter of the Florida men’s tennis team’s season came to a close on Thursday night, as freshman Sam Riffice fell to Illinois junior Aleks Kovacevic in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Individual Championships.
Riffice, an All-American this year, was the first Florida player to reach this stage of the event since Florent Diep in 2014. Riffice had the difficult task of facing the No. 7 seed in the tournament and the No. 10 player in the country overall in Kovacevic.
The match, held at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida, was tightly contested during the first set. Both players were able to pick up six games each, resulting in a tiebreaker game to determine set one.
Riffice, unfazed by the heat, powered through the tiebreaker to take the first set 7-6 (2).
Riffice carried that momentum into the second set, taking a 5-3 game advantage.
Kovacevic took over from there.
He bounced back to get ahead 6-5. The set went to another tiebreaker after Riffice recovered from the blown lead. Kovacevic, however, took the second tiebreaker, and the second set along with it, by a score of 7-6 (5).
The third set was even worse for Riffice.
Already ahead 5-2, Kovacevic took advantage of a Riffice cramp during the deciding set to slash his way to a 6-3 victory and send the Gator home for good.
While Thursday’s result wasn’t ideal for Riffice, the freshman will have three more seasons to build on a successful 2019 campaign. He was elected a team captain in his first year on the court, and was awarded SEC Freshman of the Year and ITA Southeast Region Rookie of the Year honors for his impressive efforts this season.
Riffice also helped his team secure just its third ever appearance in the NCAA semifinals, and helped Florida capture its first SEC Championship since 2005.
Follow Dylan O'Shea on Twitter @dylanoshea24.