No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis will play for the national championship for the third-straight year after defeating the No. 4 Duke Blue Devils in the Final Four of the 2012 NCAA Tournament at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, GA.
Florida (26-1) extended their winning streak to 21 matches in their 4-3 defeat of Duke (29-3), advancing to the finals of the tournament for the third year in a row and receiving an opportunity to defend their 2011 national title. The Blue Devils were on an 18-match winning streak of their own that the Gators ended on Monday.
UF has never won back-to-back national championships but will look to make team history while appearing in the program’s 13th national title game.
The nation’s No. 1 pairing, junior Allie Will/sophomore Sofie Oyen, opened doubles action with an 8-3 win and was forced watch as their teammates fought to clinch the point. Sophomore Alex Cercone/junior Caroline Hitimana trailed most of their match but held off Duke and relieved the pressure on Florida’s second-best pairing.
That duo, No. 22-ranked junior Lauren Embree/senior Joanna Mather, coughed up a substantial lead and allowed the Blue Devils to pull even with them at 7-7. Embree and Mather were soon down 8-7 and fighting for their lives but evened the match 8-8 and dominated the tiebreak round to clinch the doubles point for the Gators. Cercone and Hitimana dropped their match 8-4 in time with Embree/Mather pulling out the victory.
Florida lost five of their six first sets in singles action but was still able to increase their lead over Duke to 2-0 after No. 9 Embree built off her opening set victory and won her singles match 6-4, 6-1. The Gators then jumped ahead 3-0 when No. 21 Mather came from behind to take her match 2-6, 6-2, 6-0.
No. 61 Oyen and No. 79 Cercone both took their second sets after falling behind early, giving the Gators four opportunities to notch the match-winning points. The first of those chances was lost shortly after when sophomore Olivia Janowicz fell 1-6, 6-4, 3-6 and allowed the Blue Devils to reduce their deficit to 3-1.
No. 1 Will struggled all match long with No. 2 Beatrice Capra. The 2012 ACC Player and Freshman of the Year eventually upset her 4-6, 4-6 in straight sets and brought Duke within two points with two matches left to play.
Oyen did her best to hold off her opponent but was unable to do so for long, losing 3-6, 7-5, 2-6 and putting both teams’ title hopes in the hands of Cercone and No. 66 Mary Clayton, two extremely well-matched players.
The competitors went back-and-forth all afternoon with Clayton claiming the first set and forcing Cercone to come from behind if she wanted to pull out a victory. In the end Cercone did just that, starting with an 0-2 deficit in the third set before outscoring Clayton 6-1 over the final seven games to pick up a 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 win and send Florida to the championship game.
UF will face No. 1 UCLA for the 2012 NCAA Championship on Tuesday at 1 p.m. The Gators will be participating in their 13th NCAA Tournament final in the last 25 years and will be looking to win the team’s sixth national title.