LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Behind dynamic serving, including back-to-back aces to clinch the match, University of Kentucky men’s tennis senior Eric Quigley became the third player in school history to advance to the NCAA Singles Championship Final Four when he defeated No. 5 Henrique Cunha of Duke in the quarterfinals Saturday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga.
The victory for Quigley moves him into the national semifinals for the first time in his career and only the third time in school history. The UK star joins fellow All-Americans Jesse Witten and Carlos Drada as the only players to advance to the semifinals of the singles event. Witten was the last to claim the feat, making the finals of the event in 2002, while Drada made the finals in 2000. Witten and Drada both lost in the finals.
“I play my best when I am not tense or thinking too much about what is ahead,” Quigley said after the match. “I wanted to make sure that I was relaxed out there today and that I stayed aggressive. I have a lot of confidence right now and I am just trying to keep that going.”
Quigley, who is ranked third in the nation in singles and seeded third in the tournament, will face No. 9 Blaz Rola of Ohio State in the semifinals Sunday at a time to be determined. The two stars have not faced each other this season, but met twice last season with each player earning a win. Rola won the first meeting, defeating Quigley in a thrilling three-set battle that had two sets end in a tiebreaker in the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships. Quigley would earn the second meeting when he took down Rola in three sets in a dual match in Lexington.
Rola defeated second-seeded Mitchell Frank of Virginia in the quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals. The Buckeye sophomore has 36 singles wins this season. The nation’s No. 1 ranked player Steve Johnson of Southern California and the 2010 NCAA Singles Champion Bradley Klahn of Stanford will play in the other semifinal.
“Blaz is a really good player,” Quigley said about his opponent Sunday. “We played a couple times last season and I remember they were both really good matches. I know it’s going to be a tough match tomorrow.”
The victory in singles action continues the most successful season in school history for Quigley. The native of Pewee Valley, Ky., is now 53-7 on the season, moving his career record to 171-46 – with both win totals being school records. Quigley started the event with a win over No. 41 Andre Dome of Cal Poly before punching his ticket to the Sweet 16 with a straight-sets victory over No. 18 Andreas Mies of Auburn. Quigley has not lost a set in the tournament so far.
Quigley and Cunha played a very tight first set, with each player holding serving four consecutive times to make the score 4-4. Quigley, who served first in the match, then held serve to go up 5-4 and used some aggressive play to break Cunha and claim the first set 6-4.
“Eric put together a great game at 5-4 to earn the break and win the first set,” UK head coach Dennis Emery said. “He started to play more aggressive and made some shots to get that break and it was a big key to the match.”
Quigley held to start the second set and had two break points on Cunha in the second game before the Duke star was able to fight off the break and hold. Cunha would then turn the tables on Quigley, breaking the Wildcat to take a 3-1 lead. Quigley would respond by winning four consecutive games, including breaking Cunha twice to go up 5-3 and have a chance to serve for the match. After falling behind love-30 in his service game, Quigley rallied to tie the score 30-30 and then hit back-to-back aces to clinch the match.
“I came out and served well the entire match and that was key for me,” Quigley said. “I made some silly errors in the first set, but I was able to serve well and hit some big shots at big points. I got a break to end the first set and was able to really get going in the second to get a couple breaks and win the match.”
“In the second set, Eric had a chance to break early but Cunha did a great job to fight it off and then swung the momentum his direction to get a break,” Emery said. “Eric made a few adjustments after that and really started to use his serve to get out of trouble and work around problems. That is probably the best he has done all year at using his serve to his advantage. I was very proud overall of his effort today.”
UK’s top doubles duo of Quigley and sophomore Panav Jha could not continue their impressive run in the doubles event, falling in the quarterfinals to the nation’s top-ranked duo of Rola and Chase Buchanan of Ohio State. Rola/Buchanan grabbed an early break in the first set and then broke UK again at 5-3 to win the first set 6-3. The Ohio State duo started the second set strong as well, breaking to go up 3-0 before UK would break for the first time in the set to tie the score 4-4. Buchanan/Rola would answer, winning the final two games to claim the set 6-4 and the match.
“Cawood Ledford said a long time ago after the men’s basketball team lost to Duke, ‘Wow, that’s why they are No. 1’ and that described the match today,” Emery said. “They were a little more solid than we were and are very deserving winners. It should be a great semifinal tomorrow between the top two doubles teams in the nation.”
Quigley and Jha, who are ranked seventh in the nation in doubles by the ITA, had a great season together in doubles, finishing 22-13 overall with wins over some of the best doubles teams in the nation. The UK stars became the first UK duo since 2010 to advance to the quarterfinals of the doubles event, matching the effort of Quigley and former All-American Brad Cox who went to the quarterfinals that year. The best finish in school history at the event was when Greg Van Emburgh and Rich Benson advanced to the semifinals in 1987.
“The loss closes out a chapter of Eric’s playing career that really spoke to his ability to grow as a player,” Emery said. “Eric was 12-14 in doubles as a freshman but in his final three years he earned two All-American honors in doubles and became the first player in school history to advance to the NCAA Doubles Elite Eight twice.”
For NCAA Tournament live scores, streaming video, ticket information and more, visit the tournament central webpage here: http://www.georgiadogs.com/sports/m-tennis/spec-rel/ncaa-2012.html.
For more information on the Kentucky men’s tennis team, follow “UKMensTennis” on Twitter or like “University of Kentucky men’s tennis team” on Facebook.
NCAA Singles Championship
First Round – Wednesday, May 23, 2012
#3 Eric Quigley (3), KENTUCKY def. #41 Andre Dome, CAL POLY, 7-5, 6-4
#15 Alex Musialek (9-16), KENTUCKY def. #69 Damian Hume, BOISE STATE, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2
#2 Mitchell Frank (2), VIRGINIA def. #22 Anthony Rossi, KENTUCKY 6-4, 6-4
Second Round – Thursday, May 24, 2012
#3 Eric Quigley (3), KENTUCKY def. #18 Andreas Mies, AUBURN, 7-6(4), 6-3
#15 Alex Musialek (9-16), KENTUCKY def. #52 Ignacio Taboada, GEORGIA 6-2, 6-7 (9), 6-4
Round of 16 – Friday, May 25, 2012
#3 Eric Quigley (3), KENTUCKY def. #13 Artem Ilyushin (9-16), MISSISSIPPI STATE 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4)
#39 Alex Domijan, VIRGINIA def. #15 Alex Musialek (9-16), KENTUCKY 6-0, 3-6, 6-2
Quarterfinals – Saturday, May 26, 2012
#3 Eric Quigley (3), KENTUCKY def. #5 Henrique Cunha (5), DUKE 6-4, 6-3
Semifinals – Sunday, May 27, 2012
#3 Eric Quigley (3), KENTUCKY vs. #9 Blaz Rola (9-16), OHIO STATE – Time TBD
NCAA Doubles Championship
First Round – Thursday, May 24, 2012
#7 Eric Quigley/Panav Jha (5-8), KENTUCKY def. Gregg Cohenca/Evan Zimmer, BUCKNELL 6-2, 6-0
Round of 16 – Friday, May 25, 2012
#7 Eric Quigley/Panav Jha (5-8), KENTUCKY def. #68 Andre Dome/Matt Fawcett, CAL POLY 7-6, 6-3
Quarterfinals – Saturday, May 25, 2012
#1 Blaz Rola/Chase Buchanan (1), OHIO STATE def. #7 Eric Quigley/Panav Jha (5-8), KENTUCKY 6-3, 6-4