No. 4 Florida improved its home record against Southeastern Conference teams to 180-1 all-time after Friday’s hard-fought 4-1 victory against No. 12 Georgia at Linder Stadium at the Ring Tennis Complex.
The Gators, who have won their last 72 matches at the Ring Tennis Complex versus league opponents, also extended their overall home win streak to 114, the longest active home winning streak by any NCAA Division I women’s team in any sport.
The victory didn’t come easy for Florida (10-2, 3-1 SEC), which dropped the doubles point for the fifth time this season, as Georgia (10-2, 3-1 SEC) took the quick 1-0 lead in the team scoring.
“This was a tremendous win. We showed a lot of character playing the Florida way of getting things done,” UF head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “I thought we were resilient in singles. We had high ball tolerance, we were fit and we moved well.
“We knew doubles was going to be challenging against Georgia and we talked about that before the match. We showed great resiliency.”
The Gators won the first set on five of the six courts and seemed to have the early momentum.
Senior Caroline Hitimana gave Florida its first point of the dual match, as she earned a 6-3, 6-1 win against Mia King on court six in 68 minutes. Hitimana, who was dominant throughout, raced out to a 4-0 lead and won the last seven games to capture her 29th consecutive dual match singles victory.
Junior Olivia Janowicz provided the Gators with a 2-1 lead in the dual match after she downed Makenzie Craft 6-4, 6-3 on court five and improved to 23-6 on the singles court this year. Janowicz found herself receiving down 4-2 in the first set before digging deep and winning four consecutive games to earn the first set. The second set was on serve through six games before Janowciz got the first break of the frame for the 4-3 lead. She then held for a 5-3 advantage and fought off three game-points to capitalize on her first match-point, one hour and 28 minutes into singles play.
“Caroline getting off the court quick really helped to tie the score at 1-all and then not long afterwards having Olivia get off the court with a win,” Thornqvist said. “Getting those early wins was huge for our players involved in the other singles matches.”
Sofie Oyen was the next off the court. She won an intense battle against Silvia Garcia 7-5, 7-5 on court two in two hours and two minutes. After winning the first set thanks to a break in the eighth game, Oyen was on the receiving end, down 4-3 and then 5-4 in the second, but broke both times, even staving off a pair of set points in the 10th game, before holding to take a 6-5 lead. Oyen then jumped on Garcia’s serve and held double-match point, winning on her second to give Florida a 3-1 lead.
“The remaining matches were three-setters and we’ve shown, time and time again that we’re pretty tough in three-setters,” Thornqvist said. “When we get to that point I feel pretty good.”
All-American and No. 1-ranked Lauren Embree clinched the dual match, as she won the featured match on court one against No. 7 Lauren Herring 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in two hours and 36 minutes. After dropping a tough 10th and final game of the second set that forced a third, Embree came out determined and held at love and then broke Herring for the 2-0 lead. She earned her second break of the set in the sixth game and lost one point on her next serve for the 5-2 lead en route to her 28th consecutive dual match singles win, as well as her 10th consecutive overall.
Georgia seemed to be close to taking a 2-0 lead, as No. 17 Maho Kowase was dominating Florida’s No. 55 Alexandra Cercone on court three where Kowase won the first set 6-1 and held a 4-1 lead with the serve in the second set. Somehow, Cercone battled her way back in the match, as she earned a break and held for 4-3 down. She then held double-break point in the eighth game and eventually won on a 20-plus rally on her second try and evened the set at four. On her next serve, she fought off two break points and held for the 5-4 lead, before Kowase held and the set was even at five as the frame made its way into a tiebreak that Cercone claimed 7-4. She then broke to begin the third set, taking her first lead of the entire match.
“Alex’s fight was incredible, I don’t know how she did it,” Thornqvist said. “While she didn’t get a chance to finish her match, it was almost like a win because she was able to keep battling and made Georgia work for a win. That was huge for us. What seemed like they might go up 2-0, never happened and that took pressure off everyone else.”
Florida freshman Brianna Morgan continued her impressive rookie season, as she was leading her match on court four against Kate Fuller, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 4-0, when play was abandoned.
Florida lost the doubles point for the fifth time this season, as Georgia’s third-ranked pair of Garcia and Fuller jumped out early against Cercone and Oyen on court one, where the Bulldogs took an early break for a 3-1 lead. The Gators got the break back in the seventh game, but Cercone couldn’t hold and Florida trailed 6-3 after Garcia held. The teams each held in the respective next games, but Georgia got one final break for the 8-4 win.
One minute later the Bulldogs clinched the important doubles point when Lilly Kimbell and Makenzie Craft also got the final break against Caroline Hitimana and Olivia Janowicz to win the match 8-5. Georgia dominated the match early, losing just four combined points in the first four games for a 4-0 lead. Janowicz finally held and got the Gators on the board before then the Gators capitalized on their third break point. Then Hitimana held, as Florida trailed just 4-3, down one break. The Gator tandem, however, couldn’t overcome its early hole, as Kimbell held and the final five games were breaks.
Florida’s Lauren Embree and Brianna Morgan were leading their match on court two 7-3 when play was abandoned.