Second-ranked Florida earned a thrilling 6-1 victory against sixth-ranked Georgia and captured its 100th consecutive regular-season home victory at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex on Friday.
In a match that was much tougher than the final score might depict, the Gators, who posted their 91st straight overall home victory, put themselves in an excellent position in the Southeastern Conference championship race after handing the Bulldogs (14-2, 8-1 SEC) their first league loss and snapping their 12-match win streak with only two dates remaining.
Florida (20-1, 9-0 SEC) and Tennessee (16-4, 8-0 SEC) are the only undefeated teams remaining in league action and the two programs meet on Sunday in Gainesville at 1 p.m.
After winning an exciting doubles point, Florida turned its attention to the singles courts, where the Gators found themselves trailing early on several courts.
Freshmen Alex Cercone (Seminole, Fla.) and Olivia Janowicz (Palm Bay, Fla.) lost their respective first sets quickly, while Sofie Oyen (Leopoldsburg, Belgium) found herself down 2-0 to start.
All three rookies battled back, however, as Cercone and Janowicz forced third sets and Oyen was the first off the singles court, as she defeated Lilly Kimbell, 6-4, 6-3, and gave the Gators a 2-0 lead.
Seven breaks plagued the first set, but it was Oyen who emerged with the final break in the 10th game after holding in the third and seventh games to take the first set. The first two games of the second also were breaks, before Oyen stopped the trend and held on two consecutive trips to the baseline, before she earned another break and held for a 5-2 lead. Kimbell held to force Oyen to serve for the win, as she capitalized on her fifth match-point opportunity in that game to claim her eighth consecutive win.
Janowciz was next to complete her comeback, as she topped Kate Fuller 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, in one hour and 49 minutes and gave Florida a 3-0 lead. There were three breaks in the first set and Fuller took both en route to the first set. Janowciz then lost her serve to start the second, but broke right back and won four straight games to take a 4-1 lead and later broke again to force a deciding third where she took control by winning the first five games and served out for her 12th consecutive singles win.
Allie Will (Boca Raton, Fla.) was the next Gator to complete her match and she provided the dual match clinching heroics as she earned a 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory against Maho Kowase on court two for her eighth straight win. There were six consecutive breaks midway through the first set and the two traded breaks at the end that resulted in a tiebreak, where Will took control on her serve. The Gator sophomore lost her serve to start the second, but won four consecutive games and earned one final break in the eighth game to close out the win in one hour and 55 minutes.
Cercone followed one minute later with her 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory against Cameron Ellis, the only senior on the court for either team. Court five featured 14 total service breaks, but it was Cercone who took advantage in the third set with three and served out for the impressive comeback victory.
“This was as tightly contested as I thought it was going to be,” UF head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “Georgia is very, very talented. Our freshmen were really amazing. They’ve gotten tougher and tougher. Two of them started today really poorly in singles and turned it around. They didn’t freak out and they kept their composure and subsequently started playing better. I thought at the end of the match we were playing at a very, very high level.”
Sophomore Lauren Embree (Marco Island, Fla.) remained undefeated on the singles court, as she defeated Chelsey Gullickson, the 2010 NCAA Singles Champion, 7-6 (9-7), 2-6, 1-0 (10-3), in two hours and 13 minutes. Embree, who improved to 17-0 this season, fought off two set points in the first set and forced a tiebreak, where she fought off another set point and capitalized on her third opportunity to claim the first set. In the second, Gullickson earned a break for a 3-2 lead and eventually won a long, grueling game that she rode to force a third. Since the dual match had been clinched, a 10-point super tiebreaker was played and Embree jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back.
Florida’s lone setback came at the number three position, where junior Joanna Mather (Duluth, Ga.) dropped a hard-fought 0-6, 6-3, 6-4 decision to Alex Anghelescu that completed Friday’s play.
Florida juggled its doubles lineup and it met with success as the Gators captured the doubles point in thrilling fashion.
The new tandem of Lauren Embree and Sofie Oyen provided the first victory of the day, defeating Georgia’s 50th-ranked pair of Lilly Kimbell and Nadja Gilchrist, 8-4, on court number two. The Gator won the first two games, braking Gilchrist at love, before the next two games were breaks and Oyen held for a 4-1 lead. UF maintained the advantage until breaking Gilchrist again for a 7-3 lead. Embree wasn’t able to close out the match, but the Gators broke Kimbell to take the 49-minute win in their pairing debut.
The other two matches on court were extremely close and Florida would need another 20 minutes to capture the doubles point, as 16th-ranked Alex Cercone and Allie Will rallied from a 4-1 deficit to earn the 8-6 upset win against ninth-ranked Chelsey Gullickson and Kate Fuller.
The Gators were able to break Fuller in the seventh game, but Georgia broke right back and took a 5-3 lead, as the Bulldogs fought off two game points. Florida bounced back by breaking Gullickson and Cercone halted the three-game trend by holding for 5-all. The Gator broke again and Will held for a 7-5 advantage. Florida had one match-point on Gullickson’s serve, but couldn’t close it out, but did so on its third opportunity with Cercone at the baseline, as the tandem improved to 7-0 this season, providing the clinching doubles poin for the fourth time.
“We were excellent in doubles at one and two,” Thornqvist said. “We changed our pairings and hadn’t had time to throw some things at them as a team yet, but we certainly will. I really I liked what I saw from the new pairings. Overall, I was really pleased. I thought we were outstanding today.”
The first six games on court three were all on-serve, before the teams traded breaks and were even at 4-all. The next five games also held true to form, with the Gators missing out on a break point chance in the 11th game. One minute after Florida had clinched the doubles point, Georgia’s Cameron Ellis and Alex Anghelescu were able to capitalize on their first match point against Joanna Mather and Olivia Janowicz, preventing the Gator sweep.
No. 6 Georgia at No. 2 Florida
Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex
Friday, April 8, 2011
Final Score: Florida 6, Georgia 1
1. #16 Allie Will/Alex Cercone, UF d. #9 Chelsey Gullickson/Kate Fuller, UG, 8-6*
2. Lauren Embree/Sofie Oyen, UF d. #50 Lilly Kimbell/Nadja Gilchrist, UG, 8-4
3. Cameron Ellis/Alex Anghelescu, UG d. Joanna Mather/Olivia Janowicz, UF, 8-6
Order of Finish: 2, 1*, 3
1. #33 Lauren Embree, UF d. #25 Chelsey Gullickson, UG, 7-6 (9-7), 2-6, 1-0 (10-3)
2. #6 Allie Will, UF d. #91 Maho Kowase, UG, 7-6 (3), 6-2*
3. Alex Anghelescu, UG d. #37 Joanna Mather, UF, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4
4. #93 Sofie Oyen, UF d. Lilly Kimbell, UG, 6-4, 6-3
5. #47 Alex Cercone, UF d. #87 Cameron Ellis, UG, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2
6. #41 Olivia Janowicz, UF d. Kate Fuller, UG, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1
Order of Finish: 4, 6, 2*, 5, 1, 3
Updated Records: Florida 20-1, 9-0 SEC; Georgia 14-2, 8-1 SEC