May 24, 2010

By Andy Johnston
Special to

ATHENS, Ga. - Florida is right at home in Athens.

The Gators defeated North Carolina, 4-0, on Monday to advance to the final of the NCAA Division I Women's Tennis Championships at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, where Florida is 7-0 this year.

"So far, (Athens has) been really good to us," Florida coach Roland Thornqvist said.

Freshman Lauren Embree defeated North Carolina's Sanaz Marand 6-2, 1-6, 7-5 at No. 1 singles to clinch the match and send the Gators to their first NCAA final since they defeated Stanford to win the 2003 championship.

Stanford defeated Notre Dame 4-1 on Monday, setting up a rematch of the 2003 final at 2 p.m. Tuesday. The match will be televised on ESPNU.

"It's so exciting," Embree said. "What helped me out the most were my teammates who had already won. I was nervous, but I was excited."

The third-seeded Gators (29-2) have won 22 consecutive matches, including seven in Athens. They defeated Georgia in the regular season, won three matches at the Southeastern Conference tournament and three more in the NCAAs.

Embree's victory followed fellow freshman Allie Will's 6-3, 6-3 victory at No. 2 singles, keeping the Gators' record perfect in the NCAA tournament. In fact, Embree hasn't lost since Feb. 14 and Will is unbeaten since Nov. 6, 2009.

"Once again, our two freshmen at the top keep proving, time and time again, that they're not traditional freshmen," Thornqvist said. "They're mature in how they play. They're very mature in how they compete. That's certainly the scenario here in this event. It's not overwhelming to them."

After Florida took the doubles point with quick victories at Nos. 2 and 3, Marrit Boonstra gave the Gators a 2-0 lead with a 6-2, 6-2 win at No. 3 singles.

"Florida played an amazing match," North Carolina coach Brian Kalbas said. "Doubles. Singles. They are a very talented team, but they play with a lot of toughness and made us play one extra ball every point."

Florida and eighth-seeded Stanford (25-1) haven't met since the Cardinal beat the Gators in the 2006 Final Four in Palo Alto, Calif., but the teams have a long tournament history. Stanford holds an 8-2 advantage, and it will be the eighth time that Florida and Stanford have met in the final.

"They've got freshmen at the top of the lineup," Stanford coach Lele Forood said. "They're getting contributions from the top of their lineup. They have some seniors. They have a little bit of everything. It's going to be a fascinating match."

Stanford 4, Notre Dame 1: Sisters Lindsay and Mallory Burdette each won their singles matches in two sets to help Stanford reach Tuesday's final against Florida.

Stanford has won 15 national titles, including five this decade.

Fifth-seeded Notre Dame (27-4) won the doubles point, but Stanford swept the top four singles spots, including Nos. 2 and 3, where Lindsay and Mallory play.

"The match was interesting," Forood said. "Notre Dame played very well in the doubles. They really took it to us. They just did a really good job. I think we knew that was hardly the end of the story. We had a lot of confidence in our ability and who we are and how we play, so we just came out there in singles and said, 'We're ready to go now.' "

Senior Lindsay Burdette defeated Shannon Mathews 6-1, 6-2 at No. 2 singles and freshman Mallory Burdette knocked off Chrissie McGaffigan 6-0, 6-1 at No. 3. The Burdettes are natives of Jackson, Ga., about 75 miles from Athens.

"I was pretty upset after doubles," Lindsay said. "We had the (No. 1) doubles match on our racquet. Game after game after game, but we couldn't make ourselves stay with it. I wasn't going to let that happen in singles."

It was the second straight Final Four appearance for Notre Dame (26-4).