University of Florida men’s tennis head coach Andy Jackson said that the University of Mississippi Rebels are a top-15 team who has not played any competition yet. The No. 29 Rebels proved it Saturday afternoon against the No. 13 Gators.
The Gators were coming off of a tough home loss Thursday night to national powerhouse No. 3 University of Southern California Trojans (14-2). The Southeastern Conference matchup against Ole Miss was a chance for the Gators to redeem themselves, but the Rebels outlasted the Gators 4-3 in a marathon match that lasted more than 4 hours at Linder stadium at Ring Tennis Complex.
Throughout the match, the Gators (11-5, 4-1 SEC) looked well conditioned on every court in the 80-plus degree weather, but Jackson knows that there is more to winning tennis matches than conditioning.
“We are a very well conditioned team, but the thing is that this is not a track meet,” Jackson said. “You have to hit the ball and conditioning wise we had an edge that we didn’t take advantage of late in the matches. You got to stay on your baseline and do things with the ball.”
In the doubles competition, Ole Miss (9-4, 3-2 SEC) was able to prevail and gain what would be the deciding point of the match. Unlike against USC where the Gators dominated doubles, Ole Miss presented UF with a challenge.
The Rebels struck first in doubles with the 8-6 victory of Johan Backstrom and Jonas Lutjen over the Gator tennis pair of sophomore Billy Federhofer and junior Nassim Slilam. Then, the Gators ran into double trouble.
No. 46 Gators sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. and senior Alexandre Lacroix met the No. 8 doubles team in the country in Chris Thiemann and Marcel Thiemann of Ole Miss, who also happen to be brothers. The Theimann duo defeated the Gators 8-6 to clinch the doubles victory.
With the Gators down a point going into the singles matches, it was important that the team got out to a faster start than what they did against USC. The Gators would have to play without sophomore Bob van Overbeek who was scratched from singles play due to unspecified health reasons after playing a doubles match. This lineup shift moved Federhofer and freshman Spencer Newman up one court, and made room for freshman Andrew Butz to play on court 6.
Perhaps the surprise of the day was No. 6 Lacroix losing to No. 55 Marcel Thiemann 3-6, 6-0, 1-6 for the first singles loss for the Gators. At 1 hour and 45 minutes, it would be the shortest match of the day.
Slilam would fall 15 minutes later to No. 102 Tucker Vorster 6-1, 0-6, 6-7(3) dropping the Gators 3 points behind the Rebels, magnifying the importance of the other matches.
Butz notched the first singles point for the Gators defeating Adrian Forberg–Skogeng 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. He moved the score to 3-1.
At this point, Ole Miss began to show signs of exhaustion. Federhofer took advantage of his weakening opponent and was able to beat Jonas Lutjen 6-7(4), 6-3, 4-2(ret.) on court 4. Federhofer set the stage for the last two matches determining whether UF could pull off the come from behind win.
No. 39 Bangoura went stroke for stroke for 3 hours and 8 minutes against his opponent. Bangoura defeated Kalle Norberg 5-7, 7-5, 6-2. The lefty Norberg repeatedly beckoned for the trainer. Bangoura realized that if he took advantage of the lack of conditioning from Ole Miss, that he could pull out a victory for the Gator tennis team.
“I was feeling good. I wasn’t tired and I knew that he was tired and hurting. He was not used to these kind of conditions and I was,” Bangoura said. “I knew if I kept hitting balls back and making him run, he was going to wear down.”
On court 5, Newman was facing Chris Thiemann. Newman lost the first set 2-6 but recovered to take the second 6-2. It was the third set that would sink the Gators. Newman fell behind 1-4, but fought back to tie up the score at 4 games apiece. He saved several game points. Thiemann then called for the trainer to take an injury timeout. This marked a key point in the match. Jackson recognizes that the veteran Thiemann positioned himself well for the victory.
“He [Newman] was a little bit tired too and he just backed up a little bit too much and the other more experienced player slapped balls when he was tired,” Jackson said. “Credit goes to him, that is what you are supposed to be doing in that situation.”
Newman continued to fight, but Thiemann was too much for the young player. Newman lost 2-6, 6-3, 5-7. There was irony though in the clinching victory for the Rebels. As match point was happening in court 5, Bangoura was playing match point in his singles victory.
Despite the team loss, Bangoura feels that the Gators will be able to recover and lift the play of each other.
“Right now we got to stick together. Everybody as a group has to keep encouraging each other,” Bangoura said. “It is tough to go through and tough to see guys going through that, but that is the good thing about having a team, you know that the guys are there to keep pumping you up.”
Jackson likes the makeup of his team. The Gators he thinks are made up of high quality individuals. To him, champions are more than that.
“I know that those kids are character guys, but they want to be champions,” Jackson said. “To be champions, you have to have character, conditioning and you also have to take it to your opponent.”
The Univ. of Fla. men’s tennis team will take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starksville, Miss. on March 26. The Gators will look to improve their SEC record to 5-1.
1 – *(8) Thiemann/Thiemann (OM) def. (46) Bangoura/Lacroix (UF) – 8-6 (1:10)
2 – Federhofer/Slilam (UF) led Norberg/Vorster (OM) – 7-4 (DNF)
3 – Backstrom/Lutjen (OM) def. Butz/van Overbeek (UF) – 8-6 (1:09)
Order of Finish: 3-1
1 – (55) Marcel Thiemann (OM) def. (6) Alexandre Lacroix (UF) – 6-3, 0-6, 6-1 (1:44)
2 – (39) Sekou Bangoura Jr. (UF) def. Kalle Norberg (OM) 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 (3:08)
3 – (102) Tucker Vorster (OM) def. Nassim Slilam (UF) – 1-6, 6-0, 7-6(3) (2:00)
4 – Billy Federhofer (UF) def. Jonas Lutjen (OM) – 6-7(4), 6-3, 4-2 (ret.) (2:35)
5 – *Chris Thiemann (OM) def. Spencer Newman (UF) – 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 (3:05)
6 – Andrew Butz (UF) def. Adrian Forberg-Skogeng (OM) – 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 (2:13)
Order of Finish: 1-3-6-4-2-5
Note: Court five was the final court to begin play, accounting for the slightly shorter match time.
Gator Country reporter Adam Pincus can be reached at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/adamDpincus.