STARKVILLE, Miss. — The 19th-ranked University of Florida men’s tennis team scored a 4-3 road win over Mississippi State on Saturday at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre. The back-and-forth battle came down to a third-set tiebreaker on the first court, and sixth-ranked Gator senior Alexandre Lacroix (Paris, France) prevailed over the Bulldogs’ Artem Ilyushin, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5), to bring home the victory for Florida.
UF improves to 12-5 overall and 5-1 in the Southeastern Conference, while Mississippi State falls to 9-6 and 4-2 in the SEC.
“We’re very excited to win and feel like it goes a long way in getting the one back that we lost last week [against Ole Miss],” head coach Andy Jackson said. “We really fought hard again, and we’re looking forward to playing a top-15 Kentucky team next Friday.”
Seven of Florida’s 16 matches this season have come down to a 4-3 final score, with the Gators holding a 4-3 record in such contests. Florida had lost its previous two matches by that count, to USC and Ole Miss, before reversing course on Saturday.
“When you lose a couple 4-3 that could go either way, it becomes a little bit of a mental issue, and the only solution is to fight through and turn one of those around,” Jackson said. “On the road playing a big SEC match in a very hostile environment, it was on Alex’s shoulders and he got us through. That really helps us in the future.”
The Gators took the doubles point for the 12th time this season, sweeping all three courts for the fifth time. Playing his first collegiate doubles match, Spencer Newman (Miami, Fla.) teamed with fellow freshman Andrew Butz (Vero Beach, Fla.) to be first off the courts, winning at the No. 3 position, 8-4, over Artem Ilyushin and Zach White.
The doubles clincher came from the first court as UF’s 46th-ranked pair of sophomore Sekou Bangoura Jr. (Bradenton, Fla.) and Lacroix topped the No. 69 duo of Louis Cant and Malte Stropp. Florida’s doubles sweep was completed on court two by sophomore Billy Federhofer (North Miami, Fla.) and junior Nassim Slilam (Paris, France), who topped James Chaudry and George Coupland, 8-6.
The Bulldogs battled back in singles action to take a 2-1 lead, as the 85th-rated Coupland topped Slilam on court three and No. 92 Cant defeated Butz on court five.
But the Gators responded with a court two win from No. 39 Bangoura, who took a straight-sets win over Chaudry, 6-3, 6-2, to even the score at 2-2 with the remaining three singles matches all going to a third set.
MSU then pushed the Gators to the brink, with Stropp taking the first of those three-setters over Federhofer on court four.
But Newman then struck a crucial blow for UF, coming back from a set down to take his court six match over White, 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-2, roughly 10 minutes before Lacroix’s match wrapped.
The win was a positive step for the young Newman, whose three-set match in UF’s outing against Ole Miss proved to be the deciding factor in favor of the Rebels. But with the Gators up against a wall Saturday, Newman delivered in a crucial situation to keep the Gators alive.
“We had a lot of good things happed today that we’re excited about,” Jackson said, noting Newman’s clutch performance and Bangoura’s decisive victory.
That set the stage for the final fireworks between Lacroix and the 84th-ranked Ilyushin, which the Gator senior pulled out, 7-5, to secure the Florida victory.
With wins in both doubles and singles on Saturday, Lacroix moves into a tie for second in UF history with 197 overall wins, matching Jeff Morrison’s total from 1998-2000. He now trails only Justin O’Neal, who racked up 208 victories for the Gators from 1997-2000.
Florida next plays its final two regular-season home matches, welcoming No. 14 Kentucky on Friday, April 1, at 3 p.m. before taking on Vanderbilt on Sunday, April 3, at 1 p.m. Admission to both matches is free.
#19 Florida vs. Mississippi State
A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre
March 26, 2011
1 – *(46) Bangoura/Lacroix (UF) def. (69) Cant/Stropp (MSU) – 8-4
2 – Federhofer/Slilam (UF) def. Chaudry/Coupland (MSU) – 8-6
3 – Butz/Newman (UF) def. Ilyushin/White (MSU) – 8-4
Order of Finish: 3-1-2
1 – *(6) Alexandre Lacroix (UF) def. (84) Artem Ilyushin (MSU) – 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5)
2 – (39) Sekou Bangoura Jr. (UF) def. James Chaudry (MSU) – 6-3, 6-2
3 – (85) George Coupland (MSU) def. Nassim Slilam (UF) – 6-1, 6-0
4 – Malte Stropp (MSU) def. Billy Federhofer (UF) – 6-2, 5-7, 6-3
5 – (92) Louis Cant (MSU) def. Andrew Butz (UF) – 6-4, 6-4
6 – Spencer Newman (UF) def. Zach White (MSU) – 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-2
Order of Finish: 3-5-2-4-6-1