May 16, 2010

* Courtesy of Florida Athletics

The sixth-seeded Florida men's tennis team (21-4) swept Auburn, 4-0, on Sunday at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex, earning a place in the NCAA Round of 16.

"We're very excited to win and very excited to move on to the Round of 16," said UF head coach Andy Jackson. I thought it was a very difficult match because of the quality of Auburn's team, very much like the other two matches that we played. We fought very hard. We pushed through, and the guys had really done a lot of work. They deserve it, in my opinion. We're going to the Round of 16, and I don't know how many teams have a chance but we're one of the teams that have a chance. Regardless, we're going to be ready to go Friday night."

The win sends Florida into the Round of 16 for the 16th time in the past 20 years and the eighth in Jackson's nine seasons leading the program.

Sunday's victory was Florida's third against Auburn (12-13) this season, following wins in the SEC regular season and the SEC Tournament semifinals. Florida has now reached 21 wins in a season for the third time in nine seasons under Jackson after achieving that mark six times in the previous 62 years.

The Gators next travel to the tournament's finals site in Athens, Ga., and face host Georgia on Friday, May 21, at 6 p.m. Florida has also beaten the Bulldogs twice this season, posting wins over Georgia in February's ITA National Team Indoor Championships and in Gainesville during the SEC regular season.

Florida jumped out to the early lead on Sunday, winning doubles in convincing fashion. After No. 68 Sekou Bangoura Jr. (Bradenton, Fla.) and Joey Burkhardt (St. Augustine, Fla.) posted an 8-3 win on court two, eighth-ranked Antoine Benneteau (Boulogne-Billancourt, France) and Alexandre Lacroix (Paris, France) clinched the point for UF with an identical 8-3 victory on court one against 10th-ranked Tim Puetz and Alex Stamchev.

Bangoura got the Gators rolling in singles play, with a dominating 6-2, 6-1 court five victory over Oliver Strecker that lasted just an hour and three minutes. It marked Bangoura's 20th singles dual match victory this spring, the first Gator to reach that plateau this season.

"I was definitely really nervous coming into today, but that's where the team aspect comes in," Bangoura said. "Everybody's helping you out and pushing you and supporting you. Today was really exciting, and it was even better that I could play well and get a point on the board for the Gators."

Benneteau, a senior playing in his last career match in Gainesville, came up with a big win against Stamchev on court three, giving the Gators a 3-0 edge while avenging a loss to Stamchev in the teams' regular-season meeting.

"It feels good, obviously," Benneteau said. "I didn't think too much about it until this morning, when I realized that it was going to be my last match at home here. Of course, I'm kind of sad about it, but I'm just so happy for the team, for all these guys that I've been working with this whole year, that we're about to make it to the Sweet 16. That happiness just takes all the room in my heart."

For the second consecutive day, the clincher came from Nassim Slilam (Paris France) on court six. Slilam posted a 6-4, 6-3 win over Andy Mies to send the Gators into the Sweet 16 and preserve the 4-0 sweep.

"I'm so happy about what Nassim did during these two days," Benneteau said. "He's been through a lot this semester with a new language and going to school...He came here, and he has everything to prove. It's a big adjustment for him to make, and he's doing it pretty well. He still has work to do, but I still have work to do. We're just trying to help him. It's great that he's able to clinch that kind of match because it shows a lot of toughness."

The Gators are one of four SEC schools advancing to the Round of 16, along with Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Doubles

1 - (8) Antoine Benneteau/Alexandre Lacroix (UF) vs. (10) Tim Puetz/Alex Stamchev (AU) - 8-3*

2 - (68) Sekou Bangoura Jr./Joey Burkhardt (UF) def. Tim Hewitt/Lucas Lopasso (AU) - 8-3

3 - Daniel Cash/Bob Van Overbeek (UF) vs. Andy Mies/Oliver Strecker (AU) - 7-4 (DNF)

Order of Finish: 2, 1*

Singles

1 - (7) Alexandre Lacroix (UF) vs. (16) Tim Puetz (AU) - 5-7, 5-5 (DNF)

2 - (110) Joey Burkhardt (UF) vs. Tim Hewitt (AU) - 3-6, 6-5 (DNF)

3 - Antoine Benneteau (UF) def. (105) Alex Stamchev (AU) - 6-3, 6-2

4 - Bob Van Overbeek (UF) vs. Lucas Lopasso (AU) - 3-6, 6-3, 2-3 (DNF)

5 - Sekou Bangoura Jr. (UF) def. Oliver Strecker (AU) - 6-2, 6-1

6 - Nassim Slilam (UF) def. Andy Mies (AU) - 6-4, 6-3*

Order of Finish: 5, 3, 6*