Sam Riffice is no stranger to the courts at the USTA National Campus, and that familiarity paid off recently as the Lake Nona resident concluded an impressive run at the NCAA Division I Championships, held last month at the facility minutes from his home.
Riffice moved with his family to Orlando when the campus opened in 2017. His mom, Lori, works as a national coach with USTA Player Development. At the time, Riffice was a top junior tennis prospect and spent his days training at the campus prior to committing to play college tennis at the University of Florida.
During his first season with the Gators, Riffice found himself competing in Lake Nona a number of times, whether it was at College MatchDay or at the 2019 NCAA Championships, where Florida advanced to the semifinals and Riffice made a surprising run to the singles quarterfinals – earning All-American honors as a freshman.
While the 2020 season was cut short due to the pandemic, Riffice was able to establish himself as one of the top collegiate players in the country, being named captain of the Florida team as a sophomore and ranking as high as No. 4 in the country in the ITA’s singles rankings.
Heading into the 2021 season, Florida had high expectations with a talented roster, once again captained by Riffice and senior Duarte Vale, who played No. 1 singles alongside Riffice typically playing at No. 2. The Gators were ranked No. 1 for most of the season, en route to earning the No. 1 overall seed for the 2021 NCAA Championships.
Florida cruised to the program’s first national title, never dropping more than one point throughout the tournament run, which included avenging their 2019 defeat against Texas in the semifinals and culminated with a 4-1 win over Baylor in the final. Riffice did not drop a singles match all tournament, earning All-Tournament Team honors at No. 2 singles.
The very next day, Riffice began the individual tournament, where he was seeded No. 6 in the singles draw. After a couple of tough three-set wins in his first two matches, Riffice found his groove, cruising to easy straight-set wins in the Round of 16 and quarterfinals, including defeating the No. 4 seed Val Vacherot of Texas A&M, 6-3, 6-0, to advance to the semifinals. In the semis, Riffice knocked off the No. 1 seed Liam Draxl of Kentucky in three sets to reach the final against No. 2 seed Daniel Rodrigues of South Carolina.
Riffice earned another three-set win to clinch the NCAA men’s singles title, the third Florida Gator in history to do so, and added his name to an impressive list of players to win both the team and singles national championship in the same season.
But Riffice was not done there. His recent level of play earned him a wild card into the USTA Pro Circuit ATP80 event held at the USTA National Campus from June 6-13. In the first round, Riffice upset Italian veteran Paolo Lorenzi, who has been ranked as high as No. 33 in the world, and went on to win his next two matches without dropping a set to reach his first ATP Challenger Tour semifinal.
Despite losing in the semifinals to fellow American and eventual champion Christopher Eubanks, a college standout himself at Georgia Tech, Riffice concluded the event with his best-career professional result and capped off an incredible month of tennis on his home courts in Lake Nona.