Coming off their first loss, in which it pushed the No. 1 USC Trojans to the limit, the No. 19 UK men’s tennis team looked to get back to winning ways on Sunday, matching up with in-state rival and undefeated Louisville.
The Cardinals not only entered the game without a loss, but near perfect in general. They had allowed just one combined point to its opponents through four matches, something Kentucky would obviously have to change to claim victory.
Doubles play started off rocky for the Wildcats, as UofL’s Fabien Salle and Matthew Fung handed Cesar Bourgois and Gabriel Diallo their second consecutive doubles loss in 6-3 fashion.
The Cards then captured the doubles point on court three, where Alex Wesbrooks and Josh Howard-Tripp defeated UK’s Yasha Zemel and Ying-Ze Chen 6-4. It was the first instance of UK dropping the doubles point through its own dominant start to the year.
Facing an unfamiliar deficit, the Cats would need four singles victories to avoid losing to Louisville for the first time in almost 40 years.
The Cardinals struck first in singles action behind Sergio Hernandez’s 6-4, 6-4 defeat of No. 123 Joshua Lapadat 6-4, 6-4. After winning back-to-back matches to begin singles play, Lapadat is now in the midst a four-match losing streak. Now trailing 2-0, Kentucky had to kick things into high gear to avoid a second loss.
Gabriel Diallo proved to be the man for the job, getting the Cats on the board by avenging his doubles loss against Salle, beating him 7-5, 6-2. The Wildcat captain Bourgois then knotted things with his performance on court four, improving to 7-1 in singles play after beating Howard-Tripp 6-1, 7-5.
Squared at two, Kentucky was still in search of its first lead of the day. In an unsurprising development, Liam Draxl demonstrated he was ready for the occasion.
Fresh off his victory over the country’s top player – USC’s Daniel Cukierman, who represents Draxl’s second top-ten win of the season – the nation’s No. 45 singles player found himself up against Louisville’s only ranked singles player, No. 71 Tin Chen. Draxl would yet again be up for the task, taking care of Chen 6-4, 7-5 to put UK in front 3-2 With the result, Draxl is now a stellar 10-0 on court one in singles action.
With the finish line in sight, the Cats would keep the pedal to the metal. Zemel outlasted Fung 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in a three-set battle to clinch Kentucky’s tenth victory 4-2.
The meeting was Kentucky’s first road contest of 2021, and the first between the two schools since 2011. The Wildcats have owned the Cardinals, winning their last 26 matchups and not falling to them in nearly 40 years.
Now at 10-1, the Cats gear up for conference competition. First up are the Aggies of Texas A&M in College Station on Friday, Feb. 19. Kentucky and A&M will battle inside the Mitchell Tennis Center at 7:00 p.m. E.T.
UPDATE: Friday’s match at Texas A&M was postponed to Tuesday, Feb. 23 due to unsafe travel conditions. The Wildcats initial SEC opponent is now LSU, who they meet on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 1:00 p.m. E.T. in the Boone Complex.