On a day when the top four seeds fell, perhaps Georgia fell hardest of all.
Kate Fuller attempts to hit a return during an NCAA round of 16 match against Florida on Saturday at Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
The top-ranked Bulldogs, winners of their last seven matches, were crushed 4-1 by eighth seed Florida on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tennis Championships at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
The Gators — who won the national title here in 2012 and will be playing in their fourth consecutive semifinal — will face No. 5 UCLA, which defeated No. 4 Duke 4-2 in the quarters on Saturday. The other semifinal match will showcase No. 7 North Carolina — which bested No. 2 Alabama 4-2 — against No. 11 Stanford, which beat No. 3 Virginia 4-2.
Although the players on Florida’s team were the same ones who sustained a 4-2 loss at Georgia in mid-March, the Gators displayed a more forceful attitude Saturday, most notably in doubles, where they defeated a Bulldogs team that had captured the doubles point 24 times this season.
Florida coach Roland Thornqvist — who earned the 400th victory of his coaching career — made a few adjustments to his doubles lineup and clearly found a winning combination as Sofie Oyen and Belinda Woolcock defeated Kate Fuller and Silvia Garcia 8-5 at No. 2 and Brianna Morgan and Olivia Janowicz downed Lilly Kimbell and Caroline Brinson 8-2 at No. 3.
“I thought we played an absolutely outstanding match,” Thornqvist said. “This Georgia team is really good from top to bottom, and all year their doubles have been the best in the country. We challenged our team (Saturday) to step up and play aggressive tennis in doubles. And that really set the tone. I thought we were flawless in doubles. We played with no fear and I thought we really went after them more than they did us. When we played here two months ago, the doubles point was over in 15 minutes. This win ranks way, way up there.”
But if the Bulldogs were perturbed about losing the doubles point, they didn’t show it early in singles as Silvia Garcia, Maho Kowase, Kate Fuller and Mia King all grabbed first-set victories. Garcia, who was handily defeated at No. 2 singles Thursday against Southern California, evened the score at 1-1 with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Olivia Janowicz.
“Silvia doesn’t lose much, much less two matches in a row,” Georgia coach Jeff Wallace said. “She’s a great competitor and a fighter, someone you can count on. It would take a momentous effort to beat her.”
But Garcia’s victory was the only one Georgia would savor.
Georgia’s Kimbell lost to Alexandra Cercone 6-4, 6-2 at No. 4, Herring fell in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5 to Morgan at No. 1 singles, and Kowase, who posted a 6-3 first-set victory over Oyen, got to 4-4 in the second set but then dropped eight consecutive points to lose in three sets at No. 3, enabling the Gators to clinch the match.
Kowase was up early but couldn’t hold on to her advantage and then experienced some physical issues that made bouncing back even harder.
“She had several ads, and then the match got really physical with how much running and how long the points were,” Wallace said. “Unfortunately, her heart started racing a little bit and she started cramping, and we took an injury timeout and tried to revive her, and I think we got the heart rate down a little bit, but the cramps never went away.”
Fuller was at 6-2, 5-7, 1-2 against Woolcock at No. 5 and King was at 6-3, 4-6, 3-5 when the Gators clinched the match.
Despite Saturday’s disappointing outcome, Wallace pointed to the team’s achievements in 2014.
“Our team has had an unbelievable season, being the No. 1 seed, having the best regular season, winning the (Southeastern Conference) tournament,” he said. “We wanted to do more than the quarterfinals and that was our goal, but it wasn’t meant (to be Saturday). You have to take your hat off to Florida — they just played really well against us.”
Bulldogs Herring, Kowase, Garcia and Fuller will return to the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in the NCAA singles and doubles championships, which begin Wednesday.