The Florida Gators womens tennis team continued its run through the SEC Tournament, capturing a spot in the championship match with a 4-0 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Winning the doubles point proved to be an important key in Florida’s win over 19th-ranked and fifth-seeded Vanderbilt at Barksdale Stadium on the University of Tennessee campus.
After collecting the doubles point, the top-seeded Gators (24-1) won the singles matches on courts one, two and six to secure their spot in Sunday’s championship and will be aiming to win their 17th SEC Tournament title in the 24-year history of the event.
“You want the chance to play in the final in any tournament you enter,” UF head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “Tomorrow is a great opportunity for us. I feel like we’re fit and we’re playing pretty well.”
Florida will play second-seeded, 14th-ranked and tournament host Tennessee (17-3) in Sunday’s final beginning at noon. The Lady Vols defeated third-seeded and ninth-ranked Georgia, 4-1, in their semifinal contest.
The championship will be a rematch of last year’s title bout that the Gators claimed 4-1 against the Lady Vols, who were making their first-ever appearance in the final.
This will be the sixth time the Gators will face the host team in the SEC Championship match, having won four of those match-ups entering Sunday’s outing. The last time Florida battled the host school on its home court in the SEC final was in 2004, when the Gators defeated Vanderbilt, 4-0, at the Brownlee O. Currey Tennis Center in Nashville.
Florida leads the series against Tennessee, 36-0, including the hard-fought 4-0 win during the regular season on April 10 in Gainesville. The Gators are 6-0 all-time versus the Lady Vols in SEC Tournament action.
“We played both Georgia and Tennessee a couple weeks ago and they gave us all we could handle at our place,” said Thornqvist when asked about facing both teams before that semifinal had been played on Saturday.
“They are both very, very talented teams. They are evenly matched. Both are good in doubles and have a solid one through six [singles players]. I’d rather play the loser [of the semifinal match between Georgia and Tennessee], but that’s not going to happen.”
Florida’s number one doubles team of Alex Cercone and Allie Will played perhaps its best match of the season, as it toppled Rachael Dillon and Jackie Wu, 8-1, in 35 minutes and won its 10th consecutive doubles match. The contest opened with neither tandem able to hold serve, but the Gators came together quickly, as Will held in the third game and UF never looked back.
Olivia Janowicz and Joanna Mather followed 10 minutes later with an 8-4 victory against Alex Leatu and Nelly Radeva that clinched the doubles point for Florida, which is 23-0 this year when winning the doubles point.
“It’s starting to really flow there [at the number three doubles position],” Thornqvist said. “We’ve been up and down at that spot all year and Dave [Balogh, Associate Head Coach] has done a great job with that team. They are starting to be much more consistent in their play and that’s going to help us out a lot.”
Play on court three was halted, after the team of Lauren Embree and Sofie Oyen was rallying from deficits of 3-1 and 5-2, with Oyen serving at 4-5 to get the match back on-serve.
Janowicz carried the momentum of the doubles victory onto her singles court, where she needed only an hour to defeat Rachael Dillon, 6-2, 6-2, give Florida a 2-0 lead and win her 16th consecutive singles match. The first three games were breaks, before the Gator rookie held for a 3-1 lead. She then broke again for 4-1 and held to take a 5-1 advantage en route to serving out for the initial frame. Janowicz broke to begin the second and rode that for a 3-0 lead, up two breaks, before Dillon broke back in the fourth game. Janowicz regrouped with her six break of the match and held for a 5-1 lead. Dillon held in the next game and forced Janowicz to close out the match on her serve, which she did and won her 31st singles match, tied for the team lead.
Embree was next to complete her match, as she knocked off Alex Leatu, star of Vanderbilt’s 4-3 quarterfinal win, 6-0, 6-1 in 67 minutes. The victory was Embree’s 20th consecutive, as she has yet to lose a singles match this season. The second set began with a pair of breaks and Embree seemed fired up after dropping her serve and didn’t lose a game the rest of the way, helping Florida to a 3-0 lead in the team scoring.
Will provided the clinching dual match victory, defeating Chelsea Preeg, 6-3, 6-2, in one hour and 19 minutes. Will, who improved to 45-2 in her dual match singles career, jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the first set, later breaking Preeg to capture the first frame. The Gator sophomore then won the first five games of the second, breaking Preeg again in the final game to capture the victory and help Florida win its 14th consecutive match and earn a spot in the SEC Tournament final.
The Gators were trailing on the other three courts when play was halted.
Jackie Wu was leading Mather, 6-3, 2-3, Lauren Mira was ahead of Oyen, 6-3, 4-1 DNF, and Keilly Ulery held a 6-3, 5-2 advantage against Cercone.
“[The final score] was 4-0, but it sure wasn’t one of those classic 4-0 matches,” Thornqvist said. “This was a very, very tough 4-0 (win). Vanderbilt played great in singles and outplayed us at at least two spots. The dual match just finished before they could beat us frankly. Overall, I thought we did a good job at [position] one doubles, in particular. One and two singles were very clean. I was happy to see Olivia [Janowicz] continue her consistently solid play at six. That was a good job today.”
Team Results – SEC Tournament Semifinals
#1 Florida d. #5 Vanderbilt, 4-0
#2 Tennessee d. #3 Georgia, 4-1
SEC Tournament Quarterfinals
No. 19 Vanderbilt vs. No. 2 Florida
Barksdale Tennis Stadium * Knoxville, Tenn.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Final Score: Florida 4, Vanderbilt 0
1. #9 Alex Cercone/Allie Will, UF d. Rachael Dillon / Jackie Wu (VU),
2. #50 Lauren Embree/Sofie Oyen, UF vs. Chelsea Preeg / Lauren Mira
(VU), 4-5 on serve DNF
3. Olivia Janowicz/Joanna Mather, UF d. Alex Leatu / Nelly Radeva (VU),
Order of Finish: 1, 3*
1. #21 Lauren Embree, UF d. #75 Alex Leatu (VU), 6-0, 6-1
2. #6 Allie Will, UF d. #77 Chelsea Preeg (VU), 6-3, 6-2*
3. Jackie Wu (VU) led #41 Joanna Mather, UF, 6-3, 2-3 DNF
4. Lauren Mira (VU) led #85 Sofie Oyen, UF, 6-3, 4-1 DNF
5. Keilly Ulery (VU) led #51 Alex Cercone, UF, 6-3, 5-2 DNF
6. #50 Olivia Janowicz, UF d. #124 Rachael Dillon (VU), 6-2, 6-2
Order of Finish: 6, 1, 2*
Updated Records: Florida 24-1, Vanderbilt 15-8
* clinching doubles-point/dual-match victory