Three-peat thwarted: Stanford upsets Florida women’s tennis 4-3 in NCAA Tournament semifinal

By Adam Silverstein
May 20, 2013

No. 1 Florida Gators women’s tennis entered the 2013 NCAA Tournament hoping to achieve the second national championship three-peat in school history. Instead, Florida was dealt a stinging 4-3 defeat by the No. 12 Stanford Cardinal in the semifinals of the event, sending the Gators home from Champaign, IL a day early.

Stanford, the last team to beat Florida in NCAA play when it topped UF for the 2010 national title, snapped the Gators’ 16-match NCAA Tournament winning streak on Monday by outworking the favorites in doubles play and singles action. UF was participating in its fourth-straight NCAA Tournament semifinal and looking to advance to the event’s finals for the fourth consecutive season.

Florida’s year-long struggles in doubles were a factor as the teams of No. 11 senior Lauren Embree/junior Sofie Oyen and junior Alex Cercone/senior Caroline Hitimana both dropped their matches 8-3. It was the 10th time this season that the Gators lost the doubles point and faced an early 1-0 deficit.

The Cardinal, which fell to UF 4-2 in Gainesville, FL on Feb. 24, also won the doubles point that day, but the home team came back and won four singles matches.

Florida (26-3) and Stanford (21-4) split the first sets, but the Cardinal quickly increased their lead substantially by pulling off two relatively easy singles victories.

No. 13 Nicole Gibbs registered a huge upset of No. 1 Embree, winning 6-0, 6-1 and increasing Stanford’s lead to 2-0. The loss was the first of Embree’s career to occur in an NCAA dual match and just her second singles defeat of the season.

No. 25 Kristie Ahn followed Gibbs’s lead by earning a 6-1, 6-4 upset over No. 17 Oyen. The Gators suddenly trailed 3-0 and needed to win all four remaining matches to pull off a huge come-from-behind victory.

No. 89 freshman Brianna Morgan got Florida on the board with a 6-1, 6-3 win over No. 103 Stacey Tan, and No. 116 Hitimana followed suit by toughing out a 1-6, 6-1, 6-0 decision over Natalie Dillon. Suddenly, the Gators’ deficit was reduced to 3-2.

With No. 51 Cercone leading 7-6, 5-1 on court three, it appeared as if Florida would be relying on No. 123 junior Olivia Janowicz to beat No. 92 Ellen Tsay in three sets.

Instead, Cercone began to tire, losing five-straight games and allowing No. 14 Krista Hardebeck to jump ahead 6-5 in the second set. Cercone evened things up at 6-6 but eventually lost the second set tiebreaker and suddenly the Gators needed to win a pair of three-set matches to see their season continue.

Janowicz soon broke free from Tsay, forcing a break at 5-4 and eventually clinching her match 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, moving Florida into a 3-3 tie with Stanford.

The Gators were not as fortunate in Cercone’s match as Hardebeck broke her to lead 4-3 and quickly clinched the Cardinal’s trip into the finals with a 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 win.

Hardebeck ran Cercone ragged during the third set and had the obvious upper hand in the latter stages of the contest as she won 12 of the last 16 games.

Florida’s senior class of Embree and Hitimana were unable to achieve the national championship three-peat they dreamed of but nevertheless leave the team as two of the most accomplished players in program history. The duo were members of the Gators for four-straight SEC regular-season championships, four-straight SEC Tournament titles and back-to-back NCAA titles (Embree clinched both).

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