Florida vs. Florida State kicks off 2023 College MatchDay slate in Orlando
It’s once again tennis night in America. College MatchDay returns to the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla. Thursday for its sixth year in Lake Nona with a marquee match between two powerhouses of NCAA Division I men’s tennis: the University of Florida and Florida State University.
Both teams enter the match ranked in the Top 25. The 15th-ranked Florida Gators have reached the NCAA semifinals in three consecutive seasons, winning the team national title in Orlando in 2021, and have produced back-to-back NCAA men's singles champions: Sam Riffice in 2021 and Ben Shelton in 2022. Meanwhile, the 12th-ranked Seminoles are off to a 5-1 start in 2023, including a win over then-No. 7 Georgia.
Coach Bryan Shelton’s Gators haven’t lost to Florida State since the spring of 2018, and all-time, the Gators are 63-22 against the Seminoles. But, on paper, the Gators are the underdogs as the lower-ranked team—and Shelton isn’t overlooking the challenge posed by coach Dwayne Hultquist’s impressive roster.
The Seminoles boast two players ranked in the ITA’s individual Top 25 in the last edition of the national rankings: junior Antoine Cornut-Chauvinc and sophomore Youcef Rihane. Florida’s Nate Bonetto is the highest-ranked Gator individually at No. 51, but the doubles pair of Tanapatt Nirundorn and Togan Tokac is No. 10.
“We've seen a lot of their players throughout the fall, and I think they're as strong as they've been in recent years,” Shelton said. “I think Dwayne and his staff have done a great job of assembling a really, really good team full of talented players that compete really hard. I think that's what makes for great matches, guys that kind of wear their emotions on their sleeves a little bit are going to go out there and play their hearts out.
“I think this rivalry that we have with them is special. We've been able to do it here at the USTA National Campus and we've had great crowds and fans come out to support it. I think we've provided a great, great place for them to come and watch tennis at the highest level.
"I expect this match tomorrow night to be a great one. Hopefully it ends up 4-3. Hopefully we're on top.”
The USTA launched College MatchDay in 2013, and the event found a permanent home in Lake Nona when the facility opened in 2017. After its cancellation in 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, College MatchDay saw 2,000 fans come through the gates for both men’s and women’s dual matches (Florida vs. Florida State, Army vs. Navy) last year, and capacity crowds are once again expected for two tilts. College MatchDay has averaged more than 1,000 fans since it debuted at the USTA National Campus in 2017.
The second, and final, College MatchDay event of 2023 will be held on Feb. 18, and will see both the men and women of the United States Air Force Academy and United States Naval Academy face off in a patriotic evening that will also feature a free veterans’ tennis clinic.
But first, both Hultquist and Shelton are looking forward to another chapter in one of college tennis’ most prestigious rivalries between two in-state rivals.
“I love playing it down here. We've done it a number of times. … I think the environment down here, it will be the largest-attended match, most likely, of the regular season,” Hultquist said. “You throw it on ESPN+, in the past we've had it on Tennis Channel. I think that brings more exposure than maybe almost any other regular-season match, even though we're not in the same conference.
"To have that exposure is great for college tennis. We will have more attendance than we would have if we played in Tallahassee or Gainesville, which is kind of unusual. But the fact that Orlando is a city that has both fan bases here, it's been a very tough, tough ticket the last several years here.”
“It’s been a special place for us. It feels like home,” Shelton added. “Being here at the USTA National Campus, some of our biggest matches in the history of our team and our program happened right here. It’s pretty special. These are moments that we've created and the USTA has helped us to create in the last six, seven years that won't be forgotten. For us, there's so many. It's hard to just pick one. But obviously that national championship match, when we play Baylor here at night and in front of a packed house, pretty, pretty special. We've had just some great matches with FSU here as well as other matches with UCF and other great teams like Texas.
“So just really special memories. This is one of the most elite facilities in the country. It's great that it's here in the state of Florida where we've been able to play these matches outdoors and in great weather and then have a fan base here that's really supported us and made it really special for our athletes to be able to come out and compete and represent Florida. I think we're going to see a little bit more of that tomorrow night.”
In addition to showcasing the best competition that the NCAA has to offer, College MatchDay is a tennis festival for all ages and offers free kids' clinics, specialty food and drinks, live music, and other on-site games and giveaways. Both College MatchDay events will be streamed live on ESPN+.