Florida women’s tennis advances to final four

Florida women’s tennis team won another hard-fought match in the NCAA Championship and defeated Miami, 4-1, in the quarterfinals on Sunday at Taube Tennis Stadium on the campus of Stanford University.

The second-seeded Gators (29-1) won the doubles point and then received singles victories from Olivia Janowicz, Allie Will and Alex Cercone to advance to Monday’s semifinals where they play sixth-seeded UCLA (22-5) at 7 p.m. ET (4 p.m. PT).

This marks the program’s 21st trip to the NCAA Semifinals in the last 25 years. Florida has reached the championship match 10 times.

“It was tough, just like the NCAA Round of 16 match,” UF head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “We played well in doubles today and had somewhat of a slow start in singles. This Miami team has really improved since the last time we saw them in February. Their freshmen have gotten a lot better. We have to give credit to our players again. They really find a way and in this tournament it’s not necessarily always about who’s playing the best, sometimes it’s about who competes the best. I thought our players were outstanding again in that department.”

“Getting to the semifinals is a great achievement, but we’re going to treat this like any other match. We’ve done a good job of that all year long,” Thornqivst continued.

With Florida holding a 3-1 lead in the team scoring, the outcome was still very much in doubt, as Lauren Embree lost the first set of her match and went down 3-0 to start the second. Cercone and Joanna Mather lost their respective first sets and rallied to force a third, but both were down a break midway in the final frame.

On court five, Cercone trailed 5-3 in the third set before staging her comeback against Danielle Mills. The Gator rookie held serve and then broke at love to even the set at 5-all, before holding to a 6-5 lead. She earned one final break and was mobbed by several of her teammates immediately after the final point and her 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 victory clinched the dual match win for the Gators, who won for the 19th consecutive time.

“I tried so hard when I was down 5-3 to not let her get a match-point,” Cercone shared. “That was my main focus throughout that whole game. I tried to stay ahead the whole game. Once I won that game to make it 5-4, I just stuck with it and knew I could pull it out.

“I’m so excited about playing in the semifinals,” Cercone continued. “I started getting pretty nervous there in the middle of the third set, but the nerves are good because that means we want to win and we want to move on to the next round. We’ve all worked so hard and it seems like it’s paid off.”

Mather actually held a match point during Cercone’s final game, but Kayla Rizzolo fought off the break point and the game went to duce, where it was abandoned with Mather holding a 3-6, 6-3, 5-4 lead.

“Alex and Joanna are such tough competitors,” Thornqvist said. “This team is so deep. We don’t rely on the same players each match to have to win. You can see that in both of the matches we’ve played at this site. As long as we don’t scoreboard watch and try to predict who’s going to win, we’re tough to beat. I’m very pleased because this Miami team is tough.”

Janowicz was the first to post a singles victory in the quarterfinal bout, as she saw her first singles action at the championship site and came through with a 6-4, 6-2 victory against Melissa Bolivar to win her 18th consecutive match and give Florida a 2-0 lead.

Her match was on-serve through the first nine games, before the Gator rookie got the first break of the outing and claimed the opening set. She then jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second en route to the victory.

“Olivia has been practicing unbelievably well,” Thornqvist praised. “She didn’t play at the top of her game the first two rounds in Gainesville, but the week leading up to this was the best she’s played all year. I’m not surprised she got off the court quickly because she’s been very effective in practice.”

“I was always up a game during our breaks. When it got to 4-all and I got down 40-15 on my serve it started to get really tight,” Janowicz shared. “But some of our men’s team’s players came to watch and they cheered me on and helped me through it. I got to 5-4 and then won it 6-4. In the second set I just didn’t want to give her any room to breathe. I just stayed on her and finished.

“I’m so excited about advancing to the semifinals,” Janowicz continued. “I’m a freshman and this is my first time with this experience. It’s all surreal to me.”

The seventh-seeded Hurricanes (21-7) trimmed their deficit to 2-1 with a win on court three, but Will punched in her 14th consecutive singles win as she provided an impressive 6-2, 6-1 victory against sixth-ranked Bianca Eichkorn and gave Florida a 3-1 lead. Sunday’s win was Will’s 80th career singles victory, as she improved to 80-8 all-time, including a 49-2 dual match record, with a 23-1 mark this season.

“Allie was outstanding today. She had big forehands and defended well when she had to,” Thornqvist said. “One thing you see from her game now is that she can go from defense to offense in almost one shot.”

“I was lucky to get off the court as quickly as I did because I’ve played Bianca Eichkorn a few times before and it’s always a really tough match. My forehand was working and I was able to move the ball around the court,” Will shared. “I’m so proud of all my teammates. Everyone competed so hard. Alex came back from 5-3 and played with no fear. I’m just proud of my team I don’t know what else to say.”

The Gators got the match started with solid doubles play, as Embree and Sofie Oyen (Leopoldsburg, Belgium) defeated Gabriela Mejia and Melissa Bolivar, 8-4, and improved to 7-0 as a tandem.

Florida then turned to its number three duo of Caroline Hitimana (Waterloo, Belgium) and Mather, who entered the match with a 15-2 record together, including a 6-1 record this year, but had not played since November 6 at the Gator Fall Classic.

The pair didn’t show any signs of rust against Brittany Dubins and Danielle Mills, as the Gators earned breaks in the fourth and eighth games and took a 7-2 lead en route to the 8-5 clinching double-point victory. The win was Mather’s 150th career combined singles and doubles victory, with 80 coming on the doubles court.

“We’ve been playing well at number three doubles and now we have the luxury of mixing up the pairing and playing whoever is playing the best on that court,” Thornqvist said. “That made a big difference today. Caroline’s big serves were huge and was the difference. Our two team was solid. They made good decisions and are very athletic.”

NCAA Women’s Tennis Championships Quarterfinals

Taube Tennis Stadium * Stanford, Calif.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

NCAA Quarterfinal Results

#6 UCLA d. #3 Duke, 4-2

#2 Florida d. #7 Miami, 4-1

#5 Baylor vs. #4 North Carolina – late start

#8 Georgia vs. #1 Stanford – late start

Individual UF Results

Final Score: Florida 4, Miami 1

Doubles (ranking)

1. (5) Anna Bartenstein/Bianca Eichkorn, UM led (2) Alex Cercone/Allie Will, UF, 7-5 DNF

2. (45) Lauren Embree/Sofie Oyen, UF d. Gabriela Mejia/Melissa Bolivar, UM, 8-4

3. Caroline Hitimana/Joanna Mather, UF, d. Brittany Dubins/Danielle Mills, UM, 8-5*

Order of Finish: 2, 3*


1. (7) Allie Will, UF, d. (6) Bianca Eichkorn, UM, 6-2, 6-1

2. (36) Anna Bartenstein, UM led (17) Lauren Embree, UF, 7-5, 4-4 DNF

3. Gabriela Mejia, UM d. (91) Sofie Oyen, UF, 7-6 (1), 6-1

4. (42) Joanna Mather, UF led (125) Kayla Rizzolo, UM, 3-6, 6-3, 5-4 DNF

5. (54) Alex Cercone, UF d. Danielle Mills, UM, 2-6, 6-1, 7-5*

6. (53) Olivia Janowicz, UF d. Melissa Bolivar, UM, 6-4, 6-2

Order of Finish: 6, 3, 1, 5*

Updated records: Florida 29-1, Miami 21-7