University of Kentucky men’s tennis senior Eric Quigley used a clutch performance Friday in the singles round of 16, winning two tiebreakers to defeat No. 13 Artem Ilyushin of Mississippi State and advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Singles Championship on Friday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga.
Quigley and sophomore Panav Jha completed the day by winning a doubles match to advance to the doubles quarterfinals, while senior Alex Musialek lost a tight three-set battle in the singles round of 16 to No. 39 Alex Domijan of Virginia. This was the first time in school history that UK has had two players in the NCAA Round of 16.
Quarterfinals action for both singles and doubles will take place Saturday. Quigley will begin the day with a contest against No. 5 Henrique Cunha of Duke at Noon ET, before Quigley and Jha team up to face No. 1 Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola of Ohio State at 4 p.m. ET.
Quigley, who is ranked third in the nation in singles by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, becomes the first UK player to advance to the quarterfinals of the event since All-American Bruno Agostinelli went to the quarterfinals in 2009. The UK star is now one of four players to advance to at least the quarterfinals in school history, joining Jesse Witten, who went to the quarterfinals in 2005 and finals in 2002, and Carlos Drada who made the finals in 2000.
Quigley and Jha are the first UK duo since 2010 to advance to the quarterfinals of the doubles event, making 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.
Kentucky’s day started with Quigley’s straight-sets win over the highly ranked Illyushin. Quigley jumped out to a 5-3 lead and was serving for the first set before the Mississippi State star broke Quigley to force a tiebreaker. Quigley would perform well in the tiebreaker, posting the 7-5 win to earn the first set. The second set followed suit, with Quigley holding a lead late the set before Ilyushin was able to tie the match and force another tiebreaker. Quigley would jump out to a 4-0 lead in the tiebreaker before Ilyushin tied the score 4-4. Quigley would answer however, winning three straight points to claim the match 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4).
“Eric played a really good match today against a great player,” Emery said. “He got off to a quick start, but their guy is a very streaky player and he was able to fight back in both sets and played well at the end. Quigley had to really fight that off to win the first tiebreaker, which was huge. The second set had the same kind of format. Just really pleased with how Eric kept fighting and was able to get the win.”
The win is Quigley’s 52nd of the season, improving his career record to an impressive 170-46. The native of Pewee Valley, Ky., started the tournament with a victory over No. 41 Andre Dome of Cal Poly before taking down No. 18 Andreas Mies of Auburn to earn his spot into the round of 16.
“It should be a good match tomorrow between the tournament’s No. 3 and No. 5 seeds,” Emery said. “There hasn’t been a lot of upsets in the tournament this year, which is uncommon. Things are shaping up to where the last three days of the tournament should be really fun.”
Quigley and Jha continued their impressive performances in doubles by taking down No. 68 Andre Dome and Matt Fawcett of Cal Poly. Quigley/Jha went up a break early in the first set before the talented Cal Poly duo evened the set to force a tiebreaker that the UK tandem would eventual win 7-6 (5). Quigley/Jha had an easier time in the second set, posting a 6-3 win to claim the match.
“Another strong performance in doubles by Eric and Panav,” Emery said. “They went up an early break but weren’t able to hang on. They both did a great job of getting in their first serves and returning well in the tiebreaker for the win. They went up another early break in the second set and it’s not always easy to nurse those things through. But they did a good job today of holding serve for the final four games to get the win. That Cal Poly duo is very good and athletic and we handled that well today, especially with Quigley having to play twice.”
Quigley and Jha, who are ranked seventh in the nation in doubles by the ITA, are having a great season together in doubles, sitting 22-12 overall with wins over some of the best doubles teams in the nation.
Musialek completed the action by dropping his round of 16 matchup to Domijan of Virginia, who spent most of last season ranked first or second in the nation in singles. The UVa star played flawlessly in the first set, going up 6-0 before Musialek was able to grab a couple of breaks and win the second set 6-3. In the third set, Domijan again grabbed an early lead and held on for the 6-2 win to claim the match.
“Domijan came out and was playing very well in the first set,” Emery said. “Alex did a great job of turning the match around to break in the second set and even the match. Give credit to Coach (Cedric) Kauffmann who changed the strategy of the match, which was very effective. It was a very hot day here and they gave the players a 10-minute break from the heat. Domijan was able to come out of that break with some energy and that was the difference in the match.”
This was the first career appearance for Musialek in the NCAA Singles round of 16 after falling in the second round last season and the first round his sophomore season. The native of Dax, France ends his senior season 30-12 in singles and 108-49 for his career. Musialek, who is an All-American in singles this season and a first-team All-Southeastern Conference performer, ends his career with 108 singles wins, ranking him in the top 10 all time in singles wins in UK history.