May 10, 2009

*Courtesy of Florida Athletics

Gainesville, Fla. - Freshman Joanna Mather (Duluth, Ga.) rallied for three-set singles victory and helped the University of Florida women's tennis team capture a thrilling 4-2 win over Florida State that sent the Gators to the third round of the NCAA Championships on Sunday at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex.

Serving with a 5-3 lead in the deciding third set, Mather dropped the first two points of the game and needed to call an injury timeout because of cramping in her right wrist. The Gator rookie regrouped from the treatment and was able to fight off three break points to post the 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Seminoles junior Lauren Macfarlane at the No. 3 position.

"I started out the match kind of nervous. I lost to [Macfarlane] two months ago and I really just wanted to beat her," said Mather, who lost the regular-season meeting against Macfarlane, 2-6, 7-5, 6-1. "I came out and all I could think about was the end result of the match. After the first set [UF associate head coach] Dave [Balogh] just came over to me and told me to breathe and relax. I started relaxing and started playing and things just turned around."

Mather lost her serve to start all three sets, but broke right back in the second and third sets to keep pace with Macfarlane. Mather emerged on the positive side of three consecutive breaks midway through the second and held a 5-3 with the serve, before Macfarlane broke. Mather was able to dig deep and forced a deciding third set with a break of her own, as the two took advantage of the NCAA's heat rule that provides competitors a 10-minute break when the temperature is at least 90 degrees.

The two opened splitting breaks and Mather earned two more to take a 5-1 lead in the third. Macfarlane held steady and broke, before holding at love and winning the first two points of the ninth game as she ripped off 10 consecutive points and appeared to have the moment despite the deficit. She couldn't convert any of her three break-point opportunities and Mather made her pay, as she smashed a forehand winner down the line to cap the two-hour victory before she was swarmed by her teammates.

"I was playing for the team and that's all I could think about," Mather shared. "No pressure about the match. All of us were just playing with all of our hearts. It's just a bonus to make it this far."

The difference between UF's 5-2 regular-season loss was its singles play, as the Gators were able to collect two victories and improve to 49-1 all-time against the Seminoles (17-8). The singles lineups were identical, but Mather, in addition to freshman Jessica Alexander (Dallas, Texas) rebounded for wins, while junior Marrit Boonstra (Netherlands) earned her second win of the year against FSU's top player.

Alexander played a solid match on court No. 4, where she earned a 6-2, 6-2 win over 106th-ranked Federica Suess, who posted a 6-2, 6-2 decision in the regular-season meeting. Sunday's win was Alexander's team-leading sixth consecutive singles victory and gave Florida a 2-1 lead after FSU took the win at the No. 6 spot.

UF head coach Roland Thornqvist was proud of the way Alexander and Mather have improved since the early part of the season.

"You can't call them freshmen anymore now. The good thing with this year was that they all had to play and they all had to play a lot," Thornqvist said. "The bad thing is that they had to play through some injuries and there were certainly times there during the year where the youngsters, particularly, could have lost confidence because they weren't playing at the optimal time. All three of them showed that they're tough enough to be able to overcome that. Jessica's [Alexander] performance today was simply spectacular. She got beat in straight sets a two months ago, fairly easily, by the same player [Federica Suess] and today the score was 6-2, 6-2 in an hour and 13 minutes. To be able to get off the court to be able to extend our lead to 2-1 was certainly crucial."

Boonstra needed a third set to extend UF's team lead to 3-1, but provided a 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory against Katie Rybakova in just under two hours on the showcase court. Rybakova raced out to a 5-0 lead in the first set, before Boonstra settled and controlled the majority of the way, jumping out to a 5-0 lead herself to start the second set, as she became the third by holding at love, breaking the Seminoles' first serve of the set and capping the third game with a powerful ace to take a 3-0 lead and never looked back.

Her win came shortly before junior Anastasia Revzina (Russia) lost her 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 battle against Noemie Scharle on court No. 2, as FSU closed to 3-2 in the team scoring.

UF freshman Barbara Pinterova (Slovenia) kept her No. 5 singles match close against senior Ania Rynarzewska, as the Gator won a tight first set by winning the first set 6-2 and was serving at 5-4 in the second, as Rynarzewska capitalized on her fourth break point to keep play alive. Pinterova broke right back in the 11th game, converting her third break opportunity. She then held two match-points in the 12th game, but Rynarzewska's experience kicked in and forced a tiebreaker, which she won 7-3 to force a third set. The pair had not played a point in the third when Mather ended the dual match.

Similar to the regular-season meeting against Florida State, the Gators (16-9) began Sunday's postseason bout winning a thrilling doubles point, as UF's No. 1 pair of Boonstra and Mather topped Federica Suess and Katie Rybakova, 8-5, before Alexander and Revzina defeated Jessica Sucupira and Bonny Davidson, 8-4, in 61 minutes.

Florida next plays No. 2-seeded Georgia on Fri., May 15 in the NCAA Round of 16 in College Station, Texas. The teams split two meetings this season, with the Gators winning the regular-season affair, 4-3, on March 13, before the Lady Bulldogs captured the 4-2 decision in the SEC Tournament semifinals on April 25.

"Georgia is a fantastic team, obviously. They have great players at every position. We played them here - we played them well - and then we had to play them inside at the SEC Tournament which, in my opinion, favors Georgia. One thing about this crew, don't count them out. They've shown that and they've proven that all year long."

Sunday's win, which extended UF's program-record home winning streak to 66 matches, gives the Gators their 26th appearance in the round of 16 at the 28th NCAA Women's Tennis Championships.