CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Less than 24 hours after suffering its first loss of the season, No. 2 Florida returned to the court and knocked off top-ranked North Carolina 4-2 on Monday at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center.
The Gators (4-1) didn’t have much time to regroup after Sunday’s 4-0 loss at No. 4 Duke, but Florida stepped up and handed the talent-laden Tar Heels (9-1) their first defeat of the season. Even more impressive was that the match was played indoors, a surface that North Carolina dominated during last weekend’s run to win the ITA National Team Indoor Championships.
For the second consecutive day, the Gators found themselves in a fierce battle on the doubles court. And for the second consecutive day found themselves trailing 1-0 after North Carolina took the hard-fought initial team point after a tiebreak on the final match in progress.
“[Monday] was the day we found out that our team had heart,” Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “If you want to achieve anything, that’s the number one ingredient. I told them after the match that I was more proud of this achievement, to play away at North Carolina, after losing the doubles point, after losing to Duke, and comeback from behind to do what we did [Monday] shows what we have to work with.
“Winning aside, I was proud of how we battled. We showed resiliency. We were so close on both of these doubles points, but we didn’t let that discourage us. We found out a lot [Monday]. There are still a lot of things we can do to get better, but we have the toughness, we have the resiliency and those are the ingredients if you want to achieve anything.”
North Carolina won the doubles point and jumped out to a 2-0 lead after taking the singles win on Court 5.
Florida won the first set in singles on four courts and North Carolina on the other two.
That’s when Florida mounted its comeback, as Olivia Janowicz posted the first singles win a 6-2, 6-1 upset against No. 79-ranked Tessa Lyons.
“In both of the doubles that we lost we competed great,” Thornqvist said. “We had match points but they didn’t hang their heads. They were able to compartmentalize that loss. Olivia was automatic and I just loved that. As an athlete you have to have a short memory at times and be able to compartmentalize the things that go against you and remember what’s good. Olivia was obviously able to do that to a great extent [Monday].”
Florida freshman Brianna Morgan then posted a 6-1, 6-1 win against Lauren McHale to even the team scoring at 2-2.
That’s when Florida’s superstar, Lauren Embree, rallied on Court 1, where she was facing seventh-ranked Gina Suarez-Malaguti. The fourth-ranked Embree won a tough opening set 6-4, but dropped the second 6-1. She then took her game to another level and closed out the match 6-2 to give Florida the 3-2 lead.
The three-set victory was the 100th career singles win for Embree, who became the 24th Gator to reach that plateau and just the eighth player in program history to record 100 wins in both singles and doubles. Embree’s career singles mark stands at 100-14, while her doubles record is a remarkable 102-18.
Courts 2 and 3 were the final matches and both were in a third set, tight early until Florida’s Alexandra Cercone started to break away with a 4-1 lead against Whitney Kay. The Gators’ Sofie Oyen was battling on Court 2 against Zoe De Bruycker and was even at 2-2 before she started to make her move, as she overcame losing the first set and provided the clinching dual match victory 3-6, 6-1, 6-3. Cercone was serving up 5-4 when play was abandoned.
“This is one of the best wins that I can remember,” Thornqvist said. “The biggest hole we’ve been in as a unit and to be able to dig ourselves out of it against this quality of a team that North Carolina has. This North Carolina squad is a tremendously balanced team, indoors in particular they are absolutely lethal. For us to be able to what we did [Monday] against that quality team after losing to Duke, I just can’t say enough.”
The Gators improved to 9-7 all-time against No. 1-ranked teams, including last year’s 4-0 victory against UCLA in the final of the 2012 NCAA Championships.
Florida began the match earning the first win as Embree and Oyen upset 10th-ranked Kay and Ashley Dai 8-3.
On Court 3, Cercone and Morgan held a 7-6 lead, but McHale and Lyons found a way to win three consecutive games for the 9-7 win, setting the stage for Court 2, where UF’s Danielle Collins and Janowicz held a match point but the UNC duo of Suarez-Malaguti and Bruycker fought it off and forced a tiebreak and won 8-5 to clinch the doubles point for the Tar Heels.