Freshmen lead Florida to College MatchDay win over Florida State

Victoria Chiesa | February 02, 2023

New blood was the story in the latest chapter of the storied men's tennis rivalry between the University of Florida and Florida State University.


Florida freshman Jonah Braswell delivered the clinching victory for the 15th-ranked Gators in a 4-2 triumph over their in-state rivals on Thursday night at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla. It's Florida's seventh consecutive win over FSU dating back to the 2017-18 season. 


The 2021 NCAA national champions entered the 2022-23 season with five rookies and just three returners from last year's team, but the collective performance of head coach Bryan Shelton's club on Thursday went far beyond its years. Three of the Gators' four points against the 12th-ranked Seminoles were earned by freshmen.


"I'm really excited for our young guys," Florida head coach Bryan Shelton said after the match. "To have a win like this tonight against a really experienced, great team in Florida State, says a lot about what we have to look forward to in the upcoming years.


"They showed that they can handle the situations and play some of their best tennis when it mattered most. That's always what we try to gear up for: those big points, those critical points, and how we handle those moments and how aggressively we play."

Florida won the doubles point to begin the match with wins at the top two flights. No. 1 pair of Will Grant and Axel Nefve beat Antoine Cornut-Chauvinc and Barnaby Smith 6-3, before rookies Tanapatt Nirundorn and Togan Tokac—the 10th-ranked doubles pair in the nation—beat Joshua Dous-Karpenschif and Maks Silagy, 6-4. But the Gators soon trailed 2-1 as the six singles matches wore on, thanks to wins for the Seminoles' Cornut-Chauvinc—the 12th-ranked player in the country—and Dous-Karpenschif at No. 1 and No. 5 singles, respectively. 


That set the stage for the underclassmen. Tokac evened the match witn a 6-3, 7-6(2) at No. 6, and the Gators went back on top thanks to a 6-4, 7-6(6) win for Nate Bonetto over Youcef Rihane at No. 3. The win was an upset if going by the ITA's individual rankings: The Florida sophomre entered play at No. 51, with Rihane slotted at No. 24.

With the match down to action on two courts, Braswell ultimately clinched victory for the Gators with a 7-6(8), 6-3 win over Jamie Connel at No. 4 singles. He trailed 6-3 in the tiebreak. The No. 2 singles match between Grant and Loris Pourroy went unfinished, as Braswell won while the two were playing their second tiebreak of the night. 


For Braswell, a native of Sarasota, Fla., the opportunity to have a childhood dream come to life was surreal. He'd been a frequent attendee for College MatchDay matches, which began 10 years ago, since the event moved to the USTA National Campus in 2017.


"It was my first clinch ever as a college player, so definitely [it's] one of the best feelings I've ever had," he said. "As a kid, I watched so much college tennis and and I'd always come up here every year to watch the Florida vs. Florida State matches on [College] MatchDay.


"Ever since I was a little kid, like, six or seven years ago, I've just been dreaming to be out here, so to be able to have my first MatchDay here and delighted to be able to clinch it, it was just an amazing experienceI think it helped me because I'd always go to these big matches ever since I was a kid, so I think I knew what it was going to be like.


"I'd just been visualizing myself out here, so I think when I actually got to the moment, I felt like I was almost so ready for it. I was so excited, so I think that's why I performed well."


While Braswell has a bright future for the Gators, one of the many fans who enjoyed the first of two College MatchDay events at the USTA National Campus this winter was one of the team's former stars. Fresh off a run to the Australian Open quarterfinals, Ben Shelton was spotted cheering on his father and former teammates in the stands, and watched them earn a statement win. 


"We always wonder where he comes from because he's the louder one in the family," the elder Shelton said. "He brings the energy and it's just nice to see him out here supporting his boys. He loves these guys and they're like brothers, so to see him out here and I know he enjoyed tonight, that's for sure."


Florida also extended its all-time record against Florida State to 64-22, and 4-2 on College MatchDay.

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