No. 1 Florida Gators men’s tennis wins first national title in program history, defeating No. 2 Baylor

By Adam Silverstein
May 23, 2021
No. 1 Florida Gators men’s tennis wins first national title in program history, defeating No. 2 Baylor

History was made early Sunday morning as No. 1 Florida Gators men’s tennis won the first national championship in program history, defeating the No. 2 Baylor Bears 4-1 in Orlando, Florida. Less than 150 miles from the Gators’ home courts, Florida (25-2) delivered an epic championship victory on the back of an all-time NCAA Tournament run, converting the team’s first national title game appearance into a tremendous piece of hardware.

Head coach Bryan Shelton saw Florida’s meteoric rise — since he took over the program in 2013 — crescendo into a championship title just 15 minutes after midnight Sunday as his son, freshman Ben Shelton, clinched the Gators’ victory with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 singles win over the Bears’ Charlie Broom.

“It’s special,” Shelton said of watching his son winning the title-deciding match. “I got 10 guys over there, 10 guys that just came out every day, every day and worked throughout the summer, through the fall. … It’s such a privilege to be part of this thing. I came here just over nine years ago, and to be part of this Gator Nation and to feel the intensity and the love that Gator Nation has for us and for every single sports team at Florida is something special. And our guys get to be a part of that. I’m just really proud of you guys for what you’ve done. Tonight is just one night, but it’s what you’ve done every single day that matters most.”

Ben Shelton’s timely win was the culmination of a flurry of four singles victories for Florida in just a matter of minutes. This after the Gators dropped the doubles point to open the national championship, falling behind 1-0. Though it was not an unusual position for the program to find itself in this season, it was nevertheless a deficit. UF also split the first sets to open singles play before roaring back from behind.

In succession, Florida senior Andy Andrade beat Baylor’s Sven Lah 7-6(6), 6-0; junior Sam Riffice took out Matias Soto 7-5, 6-3; and senior Josh Goodger edged Spencer Furman 6-3, 7-5 before Ben Shelton clinched the title.

The Bears did not win a singles point in the championship, and the Gators did not drop a singles match the entire 2021 NCAA Tournament as they tore through South Alabama (4-0), South Florida (4-1), No. 16 Illinois (4-0), No. 8 Texas A&M (4-1) and defending national champion No. 4 Texas (4-0) on the way to the title showdown. UF won all 21 singles matches it played.

“I’m so proud of these guys. So proud of them. All of them. We just kept fighting,” he said. “Baylor was so good tonight. They threw everything at us early, and we knew we were in for a war, and we hung tough.”

With the victory, Bryan Shelton becomes the first coach in college tennis history to win national championships with men’s and women’s teams. He previously led Georgia Tech women’s tennis to a national title in 2007.

Shelton was emotional after the match, citing how Florida’s national championship win was the culmination of not only his nine years with the program but two difficult years for the United States, both inside and outside of the athletics world.

“[I feel] a lot of love. A lot of love. Pretty speechless tonight,” he said. “Normally, I have a lot of words, but to see these guys here and what they went through throughout last year, year and a half [is incredible]. We’ve all struggled through COVID. We’ve all struggled through a lot of personal things, different things in our lives and country, but we’re persevering. Just to see us and this great team over here come together and compete and put it all on the line is just really special. … I feel the unity that we have, and I just want us to continue to move in that direction together.”

Men’s tennis is now the 14th of the Gators’ 19 athletic programs to win a national championship. It is also the 10th different program to win a title in the last 15 years at Florida. The athletic department as a whole has now won 42 national championships.

Shelton thanked the SEC, Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin and Florida AD emeritus Jeremy Foley, who initially hired him to lead men’s tennis nine years ago. Shelton’s first team went 15-11 in 2013. His last three have combined to go 65-9 with a national title and Final Four berth. (The Gators likely would have advanced far had there been postseason competition in 2020.)

“We’re fortunate to be in the SEC. … Our commissioner worked hard so that we could compete, so that we could play, so that we could practice and do what we love to do. Our guys just took advantage of our opportunity,” Shelton said. “We got an administration that supports us. Scott Stricklin is here tonight, I appreciate his support. … I’ve got to give a special shout out to Jeremy Foley. He brought me here over nine years ago. The leadership that we have now and that we have had at Florida is outstanding.”

Florida had advanced to three Final Fours previously but was unsuccessful in playing for the title or ultimately winning the national championship. Gators men’s tennis played its first season in 1940.

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