"From any perspective, this was a great victory for Texas A&M,” Aggie head coach Howard Joffe said. “But when you consider that underclassmen like Ines Deheza, Saska Gavrilovska and Rutuja Bhosale were going against top-ranked senior players who have two national titles to their name, it really speaks to the talent, toughness and cheekiness of our young group."
The match, which was just over two-and-a-half hours late in getting started due to lengthy matches earlier in the day, came down to the last match standing, a battle of top-15 ranked singles players at the No. 1 court. A&M’s 11th-ranked Cristina Stancu held off Florida’s 15th-ranked Brianna Morgan, 6-4, 6-4, to clinch the 4-3 team victory, which equals the second highest ranked win in program history. The Aggies now advance to the semifinals, where they will face SEC regular-season champion and No. 3-ranked Alabama on Saturday at 2 p.m.
A&M improves to 19-5 with its fifth consecutive victory and its sixth win in the last seven outings. Florida, which eliminated A&M in the tournament semifinals last year and entered tonight’s match 26-0 all time in quarterfinal matches, falls to 19-5.
A&M had clutch performances in doubles to win two of the three matches and take a 1-0 lead. Florida won the first match to be completed as 26th-ranked Sofie Oyen and Belinda Woolcock pulled away for an 8-5 victory against 83rd-ranked Deheza and Gavrilovska at the No. 2 line.
Bhosale and Anna Mamalat, who were down a break early in their match, came back to go up a break for the first time at 5-4 against Alex Cercone and Brianna Morgan at No. 3. Still up a break at 6-5, the Aggie duo won the next two games to close out the match and improve to 8-0 at the No. 3 line.
The crucial point would be decided at No. 1 doubles, where A&M’s 16th-ranked Stefania Hristov and Stancu were taking on Florida’s 25th-ranked Kourtney Keegan and Olivia Janowicz. The Gators equaled the largest lead of the match at 7-5, but A&M broke and then held serve to tie the score at 7-7 and force a tiebreaker. Florida was at match point, 6-3, when the Aggie pair reeled off five consecutive points to win the tiebreaker and give A&M the 1-0 lead. It was the fourth consecutive victory for the pair, which improved to 12-3 in dual matches.
"The doubles point proved to be a critical item,” Joffe said. “Stancu and Hristov showed some great poise in staving off three match points before Hristov made an incredible poach to get the victory."
A&M, which entered the match 14-0 when winning the doubles point, would face a daunting singles lineup that listed nationally ranked players at every court.
The Gators would quickly take the lead early in singles. In a nearly bang-bang finish, 57th-ranked Keegan defeated Mamalat, 6-4, 6-0, at the No. 6 line to tie the team score at 1-1, and 97th-ranked Woolcock followed with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Hristov at No. 5.
Deheza, who has been hampered by a knee injury and was in the singles lineup for the first time since March 30, pulled off the highest ranked win of her career to tie the score at 2-2. The sophomore won her first set, 6-4 against eighth-ranked Janowicz at the No. 2 line but was trailing, 3-0, to begin the second set. Deheza then won the next six games to close out a 6-4, 6-3 victory.
No. 29-ranked Cercone put the Gators back in the lead, 3-2, defeating Bhosale, 6-2, 2-6, 6-0 at the No. 4 line.
Gavrilovska, ranked 63rd, would knot the team score for the final time at 3-3. The freshman opened the match by dropping the first three games to 70th-ranked Oyen at the No. 3 line, but Gavrilovska fought back and took her first lead at 5-4. Oyen later broke to go up 6-5, but Gavrilovska broke back to tie the score at 6-6 and force a tiebreaker. The tiebreaker was tied at 2-2 before Gavrilovska reeled off five consecutive points to win the first set, 7-6 (2).
Oyen won five straight games to close out a 6-1 win in the second set, but Gavrilovska countered by winning six straight to take the third set, 6-0, and tie the score.
With all eyes on the No. 1 court, Stancu would win her 12th consecutive match while posting the highest ranked singles win of her senior season to send the Aggies to the semifinals for the second consecutive year.
Alabama, which defeated South Carolina, 4-2, in a quarterfinal match-up earlier in the day, defeated A&M 4-1 when the teams met in the regular season in Tuscaloosa, Ala. This will be the first time the two teams will meet in the SEC tournament.
"Our turnaround will be short and the competition will be fierce tomorrow,” Joffe said, “but I expect the Aggies to be excited and ready to go."
Visit AggieAthletics.com for more information on Texas A&M women’s tennis. Aggie fans also can keep up to date with the A&M women’s tennis team on Twitter by following @AggieWTEN or on Facebook at Facebook.com/AggieWomensTennis.
No. 8 Texas A&M 4, No. 4 Florida 3
SEC Women’s Tennis Tournament - Quarterfinals
Mizzou Tennis Complex
April 18, 2014
1. #11 Cristina Stancu (TAMU) def. #15 Brianna Morgan (UF), 6-4, 6-4
2. Ines Deheza (TAMU) def. #8 Olivia Janowicz (UF), 6-4, 6-3
3. #63 Saska Gavrilovska (TAMU) def. #70 Sofie Oyen (UF), 7-6 (2), 1-6, 6-0
4. #29 Alexandra Cercone (UF) def. Rutuja Bhosale (TAMU), 6-2, 2-6, 6-0
5. #97 Belinda Woolcock (UF) def. Stefania Hristov (TAMU), 6-2, 6-0
6. #57 Kourtney Keegan (UF) def. Anna Mamalat (TAMU), 6-4, 6-0
Doubles (A&M wins the point)
1. #16 Hristov/Stancu (TAMU) def. #25 Keegan/Janowicz (UF), 8-7 (6)
2. #26 Oyen/Woolcock (UF) def. #83 Ines Deheza/Gavrilovska (TAMU), 8-5
3. Bhosale/Mamalat (TAMU) def. Cercone/Morgan (UF), 8-5
Order of finish
Singles: 6, 5, 2, 4, 3, 1
Doubles: 2, 3, 1
Texas A&M: 19-5