Georgia sophomore Philip Henning produced some excellent shots from all over the court during his 6-4, 6-4 singles win over Florida’s Sam Riffice — a matchup of two of the top players in the country last spring — on Saturday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. Henning’s straight-set victory was the highlight of the Bulldogs’ action on Day 2 of the 53rd annual Southern Intercollegiate Championships.
“I feel like my shot selection was really good throughout the match, doing the right thing at the right time,” Henning said. “I didn’t try to finish the points too early and I feel like I tried to play my strengths against his weaknesses.”
In the final ITA men’s team rankings, released March 10, just before last season was shut down by the pandemic, the Gators were No. 9 in the country and Georgia was No. 11. Ole Miss, which the Bulldogs faced on Friday and won five singles and two doubles matches against, was No. 15.
Against the Gators on Saturday, Georgia picked up one win in singles and doubles. The Bulldogs were again playing without two of their All-Americans from the spring, Trent Bryde and Tyler Zink, who participated in a Futures tournament in Fayetteville, Ark., this week.
Playing on court 1, Henning was taking on Riffice in a matchup of All-Americans from last season. In the ITA’s final singles ranking back in March, Riffice was No. 5 and Henning No. 11. Henning got up a break midway through the opening set and held it, winning 6-4. In the second set, the two top talents kept playing high-level tennis and again it was Henning that earned the service break.
Henning served for the match at 5-4 and was up 40-15 in the game when Riffice produced a volley winner to save one match point, and then Henning missed a backhand on the next, bringing the game to deuce. It was match point No. 3 for Henning and break point for Riffice, who opted to return in the ad court. Henning served out wide to Riffice’s backhand and the return went into the net, securing a 6-4, 6-4 win for Henning.
“It was really fun being out there. I love playing matches like these. It’s nice getting confidence after a match like this, which you can take with you into the next matches to come,” Henning said.
Two things that stand out about Henning, from South Africa, are how quick he is moving around the court, and how quick he is to applaud his opponent for a great shot. At 1-2 in the second set, Riffice hit a superb drop shot that Henning was able to chase down, but then Riffice followed it brilliantly with a backhand topspin lob into the back, right corner. As Henning was trying to run the shot down, in vain, he immediately starting clapping his racket against his left hand in a gesture of applause for the winning.
On the very next point, it was Henning with a backhand lop winner up the baseline to draw even at 2-all, earning a nod of approval from his opponent.
“It’s tennis, it’s a gentleman’s sport,” he said. “If he plays a good point, I can’t do anything about it except say job well done.”
At 3-all, Henning was able to break Riffice’s serve and take charge of the second set. The two evenly-matched players produced some excellent, all-court points that featured more than a dozen strokes and often ended with well-executed winners.
Florida took two of the three doubles matches to start Saturday’s action. On court 3, the Gator team of Ben Shelton and Josh Goodger pulled away from Baptiste Anselmo and Britton Johnston with the pro-set tied at 3-all, winning the final five games for an 8-3 victory. On court two, Georgia’s Blake Croyder and Billy Rowe got up a break late in the set against Andy Andrade and Blaise Bicknell and made it stick, winning 8-6.
The most exciting of the doubles matches was on court one, where Georgia’s Erik Grevelius and Henning rallied from 5-2 and 6-3 down to force a tiebreaker at 7-all. In the tiebreaker, Florida’s Riffice and Duarte Vale were able to pull out a 7-5 win.
On court two in singles, Croyder and Andrade played a tight first set, with the Georgia sophomore winning it 6-4. Andrade got up early in the second set and won it 6-3, forcing a deciding third. In the final set, Andrade got up a break early before Croyder broke back to tie the set at 4-all. Andrade broke right back and then served out the match for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win.
Florida was also able to earn wins on courts 3-6: Vale defeated Grevelius, 6-1, 6-4, on court 3; Shelton beat Rowe, 6-2, 6-1, on court 4; Bicknell defeated Anselmo, 6-1, 6-1, on court 5; and on court 6, Goodger beat Nicklas Von Hellens, 6-2, 6-1.
The Bulldogs will wrap up the Southern Intercollegiates and their fall schedule on Sunday against Auburn. Play begins at 10 a.m.