Snow freezes Gators’ chomp

 

 

By Eric Chima

Cold, wind and snow are never ideal conditions for a tennis match. But when you are a tennis team from Florida, where poisonous spiders are a bigger threat than blizzards, a day-long snowstorm can be even more unnerving.

So it was for the Florida Gators, who looked out of their element and out of their league as they were beaten 6-1 by the Illini Tuesday night.

The Illini struggled at the top of their lineup, losing in the two marquee matches of the night, but swamped the Gators with their depth.

“Illinois is a lot better than we are,” Florida coach Andy Jackson said. “We could have ducked the match, because it’s a blizzard. I think we showed some character by coming out and taking our whooping.”

The NCAA champion team of Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe lost 8-4 at first doubles to Jesse Levine and Greg Oullette, but the Illini rebounded with an 8-2 win at third doubles to even the score. In the second spot, Ruben Gonzales and Brandon Davis let an early 4-0 lead dwindle to 6-5, but held on to take the match 8-6 and win the doubles point.

In singles, the middle of the Illinois lineup jumped all over the top-heavy Gators. G.D. Jones, returning to the form that had him playing as high as first singles at times last year, romped his opponent 6-2, 6-1 at fourth singles. Gonzales followed minutes later with a 6-2, 6-0 win at third singles, and Marc Spicijaric took away all doubt with a 6-3, 6-4 win at the fifth spot.

Coach Brad Dancer was effusive in his praise of Jones and Gonzales after the match.

“In my personal opinion, GD is one of the top ten players in the country,” Dancer said. “He’s viciously good when he plays well. And Ruben Gonzales, he is a hunting tiger when he walks on a tennis court. Everyone thinks they want to play a tennis match against him until they play a tennis match against him.”

With the match in hand, the drama came down to the first singles match between Kevin Anderson and Jesse Levine, the two college players with the highest professional rankings in the nation. The first set was destined for a tiebreak from the start, as both players held serve with ease. Each player held a set point in the tiebreak, but it was Levine that capitalized when he got to a seemingly unreturnable shot and hit a spectacular backwards, over-the-shoulder lob to claim the set.

Anderson had shot after shot of Levine’s serve in the second set, but the freshman stymied him with a wide slice serve seemingly every time and broke Anderson twice to take the match 7-6, 6-4.

“That wide serve is my money serve, my bread-and-butter,” Levine said. “I wanted to mix up my serves against Kevin, so I was kind of saving it for the big points. It came up pretty clutch.”

Levine’s match would be the only one Florida took all night, as Brandon Davis rallied to win a three-setter at sixth singles and Ryan Rowe rebounded from a poor doubles performance to win 7-6, 6-3 over No. 16 Greg Oullette at the second spot.

“Kevin and I were both pretty frustrated after the doubles, but we just went into the locker room and tried to reset our minds,” Rowe said. “I was able to refocus and come out and pick it up again.”