The No. 16 UK men’s tennis team began conference play on Sunday. After taking their first loss of the season against No. 1 USC, the Cats bounced back nicely and vanquished in-state rival Louisville 4-2, improving Kentucky’s record to a stellar 10-1 and gearing them for a 12-game SEC slate.
First up for Kentucky were the 8-1 LSU Tigers, fresh off a win in their conference opener against Vanderbilt. The Tigers were no stranger to facing ranked opponents, as they scored a 4-0 road win over No. 23 Texas Tech in early February. It was clear they’d have no fear as they entered the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex.
LSU struck first in doubles play on court three, with Nick Watson and Boris Kozlov defeating Alexandre Leblanc and Liam Draxl 6-2. Watson and Kozlov are undefeated as a duo, now 7-0.
Forced to respond, the Cats ultimately answered on court two behind Millen Hurrion and Yasha Zemel. But it was anything but smooth.
The tandem led Tigers Joao Graca and Joey Thomas 5-1 through six games, looking like they would coast to victory. Disaster soon appeared on the horizon though, as Graca and Thomas rattled off four consecutive games to tie the match at five apiece. Despite the run, Hurrion and Zemel weren’t deterred, conquering the set 7-5 to avoid the meltdown and hinge the point on court one’s outcome.
Cesar Bourgois and Gabriel Diallo began the year on a 7-0 tear before dropping two consecutive matches against USC and Louisville. They would need to snap their skid against the No. 60 doubles tandem in Rafael Wagner and Ronald Hohmann, who carried a 5-2 record in dual matches, to notch the point.
After a back-and-forth battle, the match found itself in a tiebreaker. Bourgois and Diallo proved to be superior on this day, taking seven of eight in the final set to outlasting Wagner and Hohmann 7-6 (7-1). The victory was the third over ranked opponents for Diallo and Bourgois, who improved their record to as a pair to 8-2 while putting Kentucky up 1-0.
The Cats aimed to ride the momentum gained after their gutsy doubles performance, and did a great job of doing so, adding to their lead on court four. Bourgois made quick work of Kozlov 6-1, 6-2. The team captain out of Paris is now 8-1 in singles play.
Kentucky then extended its margin to three because of Diallo, who defeated Wagner 7-5, 6-2 on court two and brought the Cats a single point from overall victory.
Just a minute after Diallo won his match, Hurrion prevailed over Tom Pisane 7-5, 6-1 to give UK a 4-0 over the tough LSU bunch.
The white-hot Liam Draxl, ranked No. 45 in the nation, headlined singles action with LSU’s Ronald Hohmann, who slotted at No. 99. They were unable to complete their match due to the Wildcats clinching things, but were in the midst of a three-set war featuring maximum emotion. Hohmann claimed the initial set 6-4, but Draxl took the second 6-1. Hohmann led the penultimate one 3-2 when play was halted.
Now at 11-1 (1-0 SEC), Kentucky travels to College Station on Tuesday to meet Texas A&M. The match serves as a make up to last Friday’s, which was postponed due to unsafe travel conditions. The date kicks off a three-contest road trip for the Cats, who will begin play with the Aggies in the Mitchell Tennis Center at 4:00 p.m. E.T.