Gators beat Stanford in thriller

With over 1,000 fans on hand to start and through one weather delay and change of venue, the 4th-ranked Florida women’s tennis team defeated 13th-ranked Stanford, 4-2 at the Ring Tennis Complex Sunday afternoon.

The match, which was part of the first ever USTA College Match Day, brought to the courts a sold-out, standing room only crowd of 1,033, which was the 2nd-largest in program history and saw a great come from behind victory for the Gators (6-1) in handing Stanford (4-2) its second loss of the year.

The win also extends Florida’s overall home winning streak to 112 straight matches and 117 regular-season home matches.

“We talked beforehand that we kind of knew it was going to be the classic Stanford-Florida battle,” Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “It was going to be a lot of points, long games, long sets, grueling and we knew that if we could make it that, that was going to give us the best chance to win, and I think after losing the doubles point where Stanford played well, we were a little tentative maybe. I think we regrouped really well and found a nice rhythm in singles to make points long, and obviously we had some spectacular play at two because the kid at two (Kristie Ahn) for Stanford is world-class. That kid has played center court U.S. Open, and so for Sofie (Oyen) to get off the court quick, for Olivia (Janowicz) to get off quick, that really set the tone for us, but it’s a team of warriors. We work hard, we run and at the end of the matches, you have to be able to use your legs when it’s hard to hit the corners. Today was a great example of that.”

Stanford took the air out of the raucous crowd early after winning the doubles point with wins at the top two courts, but Florida was able to stay at their opponent’s heels all day, winning on two of the first three singles courts to go final. With three singles matches remaining and either team only needing two more points, all matches were sent to a deciding third set; that was when Florida’s freshman Brianna Morgan (Beverly Hills, Calif.) and junior Alexandra Cercone (Seminole, Fla.) took over and won it for the Gators.

After dropping the first set to Stanford’s Krista Hardebeck, who is ranked 10th in the nation, 6-4, Cercone battled back to win the final two sets, 6-4, 6-3. The match, which was finishing up over three hours after it began because of a rain delay and a move of location into the brand-new indoor facility, saw multiple deuce points and long rallies. With the fans that did make it indoors, Cercone was able to dig down and give UF its third team point of the day. The win also keeps Cercone perfect on the year in singles at 4-0.

“Roland came into the locker room and asked us if we wanted to go inside,” Cercone said. So he and the Stanford coach could deliberate on what they wanted to do. We told him that we wouldn’t be upset if we went indoors because we’ve had experience practicing in there and Stanford hasn’t, so we figured maybe that could be like a one-up.”

After Cercone’s win at court three, senior Lauren Embree (Marco Island, Fla.) and Morgan were involved in the only two matches left and both were in deciding third sets. Embree’s match with Nicole Gibbs was featuring long games and long points, while Morgan’s match was moving much faster as she neared the clinching sixth game-winner.

Morgan had an early advantage after winning the first frame, 6-4, but was taken to a third set after dropping the second, 6-3 to the Cardinal’s Stacy Tan. With the match tied at 2-all, it seemed as if whoever broke the first serve would have the upper hand. Sure enough, Morgan was able to break Tan’s serve for a 3-2 lead and then hold in the next game to move ahead 4-2. Tan did return the favor to hold her serve in the next game to pull within 4-3, but Morgan stayed ahead and then broke Tan one more time after a couple of deuce points to give Florida the 4-2 win. The final line for Morgan and Tan’s match ended up 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in favor of Morgan.

“I think definitely after the first set and in the first game of the third set, I mentally wasn’t there,” Morgan said. And so in the third set I tried to really forget about everything that had happened and kind of hitting the reset button mentally. That was what helped me.”

“That was some serious tennis,” Thornqvist said. “Two great athletes that both hit the ball world class, and it says a lot about an athlete, I think, to have the lead, lose the lead and then act like nothing happened and then be able to break for us to win this match.”

Not to be overlooked, the Gators were able to get quick wins from juniors Sofie Oyen (Leopoldsburg, Belguim) and Olivia Janowicz (Palm Bay, Fla.) at courts two and six, which allowed UF to make up the ground lost in doubles play. Janowicz was the first off the court after defeating Lindsey Kostas, 6-2, 6-2, for her sixth win of the year. Barely eight minutes later, Oyen was off the court also after dispatching Kristie Ahn, 6-2, 6-2, to move to 5-2 in singles this year.

The Gators next match will be their first Southeastern Conference match of the year as they will travel to Columbia, Missouri to take on the Tigers on March 1, starting at 6 p.m. In that same weekend, they will head down to College Station, Texas to face Texas A&M on March 3. The match between the Aggies and Gators is set to begin at 1 p.m.

Courtesy of UF Communications