Knights Ready for ITA Kickoff Weekend at Ohio State

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ORLANDO – The UCF men's tennis travels up to Columbus, Ohio for the ITA Kickoff Weekend hosted by second ranked Ohio State, whom the Knights will face on Saturday at 10 am. On Sunday, dependent of the result of the second all-time meeting with the Buckeyes, UCF will either face Oregon or Tulsa at either 9 am or noon.

The Knights opened their 2023 season with a weekend doubleheader in Orlando, headlined by a matchup with No. 17 Florida. While the young squad kept it close with four courts going three sets, they fell 1-6. There wasn't much time for dwelling as UCF would welcome Georgia Southern to the USTA National Campus the next day for a Sunday matinee. With swift doubles win, clinched by freshman Mehdi Benchakroun and Paul Colin, the Knights never looked back, taking four of six in singles as Benchakroun and Luca Hotze picked up their first dual match wins of their collegiate careers.

Senior Bogdan Pavel had a fitting start to his encore with UCF, taking both of his singles matches last weekend and was the only Knights to take a point off the Gators, winning a three-set thriller versus Will Grant, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4. The Romanian was also the first to clinch its singles match against the Eagles with a straight set victory, 6-3, 6-3, versus Dimitris Paliouras. This is the first time Pavel has taken his first two singles ties since 2020 where he won his first three. Playing at two, the five-year staple in the program will look to carry on his good form into a stiff battle with Ohio State. Pavel is also just seven doubles victories away from matching Gabriel Decamps (2018-21) program record of 64. Both he and Lleyton Cronje, ranked 28th in the nation, have gone unfinished in both of their ties thus far.

With seven of the Knights eleven-man roster made up of newcomers, it was an exciting weekend for introductions. Benchakroun, who played alongside Luca Hotze in the fall, both secured their first dual wins of their collegiate careers. After falling down a set in both matches, Benchakroun fought back and forced a third set and finished the comeback on Sunday versus Pierre Mouesca, 1-6, 6-4, 6-4. The result clinched the match with the Eagles and showed the Moroccan's ability on the court. Hotze won his second match of the season in straight sets, 7-5, 6-4. The duo was joined by Paul Colin who won his first doubles match with the Knights alongside Benchakroun. There are still plenty of freshman who have yet to make their debut and who too will look to give the squad the ability it needs.

UCF has competed in four ITA Kickoff weekend under head coach John Roddick. As hosts last season, it advanced to the final after a 4-3 victory over Louisville. This year's field includes a meeting with the highest ranked team the Knights have faced since their matchup with the No. 1 ranked Gators in 2020. Along with the hosts, conference rivals Tulsa and Pac-12 members Oregon will matchup at 1 pm on Saturday.

Ohio State is off to a 5-0 start and are off the back of a 6-1 win versus conference foes Illinois. The Buckeyes are led by JJ Tracy, the fifth ranked player in the nation, and Justin Boulais who've each taken care of business to start the year. Tracy and Andrew Lutschaunig, the second ranked doubles pairing, will likely provide a stern test for Cronje and Pavel. The only previous meeting between the two programs came last season in Columbus, which Ohio State took 4-0.

The Golden Hurricane is 2-1 in 2023 following a loss against No. 3 TCU, 1-6. The Knights have taken the last six meetings against Tulsa, not having lost since 2017. As for the Ducks, they're 2-0 thus far with wins over Utah State and UC Riverside. They'll provide another difficult tandem with 11th ranked Joshua Charlton and Quinn Vandecasteele. A potential matchup would be the first all-time with Oregon.