TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the second time in five weeks, four Seminoles are heading to Athens, Ga., for a weekend of competition against the best players in the region, this time for the 2014 USTA/ITA Southeast Regional Championships hosted at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex by the University of Georgia.
The field consists of athletes from 15 schools throughout Florida and Georgia.
“We are looking forward to playing in the regionals this weekend,” head coach Dwayne Hultquist said. “We play in one of the tougher regions in America, but we are confident that we can qualify a player or team for the national tournament next month in New York.”
To qualify for the National Indoor Championships, the Seminoles would need to win the singles or doubles tournament, or play well enough that they get picked as an at-large selection.
Redshirt junior Benjamin Lock, ranked No. 79 in the country, is the No. 8 seed in the tournament and will open play against a qualifier that will be named after qualifying matches take place Thursday. Eight qualifiers will round the field of 64. All four Seminoles are already in the main draw.
Senior Cristian Gonzalez Mendez is also a Top-16 seed and will play his first round match Friday afternoon against Alejandro Valencia of Kennesaw State at 4:30 p.m. Gonzalez Mendez is ranked No. 103 in the country. In September, Gonzalez Mendez took down opponents from Arkansas and Tennessee at the Southern Intercollegiate Championships, also hosted at the University of Georgia.
Redshirt freshman Jose Gracia plays his Round of 64-match Friday at 2 p.m. against Ignacio Gonzalez-Muniz of USF. Like Gonzalez Mendez, Gracia played the singles draw at the SIC and advanced to the second round after defeating Ismael Merino of East Tennessee State in straight sets. Gracia continues to rehab from an injury that sidelined him for his freshman season, resulting in a redshirt last year. At the Crimson Tide Four-in-the-Fall on September 27, Gracia knocked off No. 48-ranked Becker O’Shaughnessy of Alabama and is 4-2 in singles play this season.
Marco Nunez will play his first round match against Kyle Hoffman of Georgia Southern beginning Friday at 3:30 p.m. Nunez won two matches at the SIC in Athens last month, including a victory over No. 90 Rhys Johnson of Vanderbilt. On the season, Nunez is 4-2, with nationally-ranked wins over Johnson and No. 49 Chris Sampson of LSU at the ITA All-American Championship in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Sept. 30.
“The four guys we brought this year are hungry to show the region and the country the improvements they have made since last season,” associate coach Nick Crowell said. “These guys are playing really well and look to make a strong run through the field this weekend.”
In doubles action, Lock and Nunez look to defend the 2013 Regional title they won last year at Georgia Tech. In the finals, the unranked duo took down No. 4-seed Oliver Pramming and Gonzalez-Muniz of USF to win the tournament. This year, they are one of the top duos in the country and are the No. 1 seed at the Regional Championships. Ranked No. 10 in the country and 1-1 on the season, Lock and Nunez defeated the No. 5-ranked TCU duo Nick Chappell and Will Stein at the ITA All-American Championship. After a bye in the first round, Lock and Nunez will face either Julian Bradley and Zach Goldberg of North Florida or Loic Blanco and Kevin Gonzalez of Stetson. Friday’s second round match will begin at 9 a.m.
“Ben and Marco are looking to gain momentum this fall after a late start [Lock was in Egypt playing in the Davis Cup for Zimbabwe the first two tournaments of the fall],” Crowell said. “They will get everybody’s best shot as they go for the doubles title two years in a row. If they take it one match at a time, they have a good chance to repeat.”
Gonzalez Mendez and Gracia will pair up for the first time this season. They also have a first round bye and will face Austin Bates and Tianyu Bao of Florida Gulf Coast Friday at 9 a.m. in the second round.
For continued coverage of the men’s tennis team at the Southeast Regional Championships, follow the team on Twitter @FSU_MTennis, on Facebook at FSUMTennis, and online at Seminoles.com.