University of Florida senior Lauren Embree of Marco Island won the first national singles title of her illustrious career by gutting out a classic three-setter in the final of the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships at the Riviera Tennis on Sunday afternoon.
Embree, a Lely High School graduate, halted the run of Virginia's Julia Elbaba, who is the nation’s fourth-ranked freshman, by rallying for the 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, victory and capturing the first Grand Slam title of her career.
“It feels great and special to win this my senior year,” Embree said. “I think I played a little nervous in the first set and (Elbaba) was just teeing off on my shots. Then I started being more aggressive and just kept fighting and hanging in there. She’s a great player and a tough competitor.”
The Cavaliers freshman jumped out and took the first set to put the pressure on Embree.
“In the first set I didn’t play as aggressive as I should have and she took control,” Embree shared.
The Gators All-American then won the first three games of the second set en route to winning the second set and forcing a deciding third.
Elbaba regrouped and took leads of 2-0 and was serving up 4-2 in the final set, before Embree staged another of her classic comebacks by winning the next four games and earning the championship.
“The third set was up and down and got really close towards the end,” Embree said. “I kept fighting and tried to play aggressive on the big points.”
Embree becomes the 20th different Gator to win a collegiate Grand Slam title, as well as the 10th to claim one on the singles court.
Embree is the fourth different Gator to win the Riviera/ITA All-American Singles Championship, joining Jill Craybas (1995), Jessica Lehnhoff (2001) and Allie Will (2011).
“Today was vintage Lauren Embree – again,” UF associate head coach Dave Balogh said. “Julia came out hitting the ball as hard as she could and everything was going in. But once again, Lauren refused to go away. She just hung in there, competed, fought and scraped. Great players come up big in the clutch moments and Lauren did that this afternoon. I couldn’t be more proud of the way she played and represented the Gator Nation today.”
Embree has been the ultimate team competitor during her accomplished career, seemingly saving her best for dual matches, as she has provided the NCAA Team Championship point each of the last two years and was named the NCAA Championships Most Valuable Player both times.
Prior to the 2012 Riviera/ITA All-American Championships, Embree’s previous best showing at a Grand Slam singles event was in May of 2011 when she reached the semifinals of the NCAA Singles Championships and was forced to retire because of injury after she and Stanford’s Stacey Tan split sets.
Before taking the court for her singles bout, Embree paired with Gators freshman Danielle Collins in the final of the consolation doubles draw, and fell short to Pepperdine’s seventh-ranked Lorraine Guillermo and Khunpak Issara, 8-3.
The next tournament the Gators are scheduled to play is Oct. 19-22 at the ITA Southeast Regional in Tampa.