LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 9 University of Kentucky men’s tennis team used a strong singles effort, winning four of the six matches after dropping a tight doubles point, to come from behind and record a 4-3 win at No. 7 Duke inside the SheffieldIndoor Tennis Center on Sunday afternoon, clinching Kentucky’s first win at Duke since 1974.
“We wanted to come down here and test ourselves playing a top-10 team on the road,” UK head coach Cedric Kauffmann said. “We played really hard after losing the doubles point. In doubles, I thought we played well at one and two and had our chances with breaks to close things out. We got a little nervous, but kept our composure in the singles, which is something that I wanted to see. This is a top-10 team and we bounced back well and showed a lot of resilience on the road. I am really proud of the boys today.”
The win over Duke (0-2, 0-0 ACC) revenged a 4-2 loss in last year’s 2013 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, and also marked the first time that Kentucky has defeated Duke since the 2002 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
In the doubles point, the Wildcats got off to a quick start, as senior Tom Jomby and fellow 2013 All-American partner, Kevin Lai cruised to a quick 6-1 win on court one to give the Wildcats the early 1-0 lead in doubles play. Alejandro Gomez and freshman Jerry Lopez linked up on court three, and fell 6-1 as well, as the Blue Devils squared the point, and forced the doubles competition tocome down to court two.
On court two, sophomore Beck Pennington and Ryuji Hirooka were leading the match 5-2 and only needed one more game to clinch the point against Raphael Hemmeler and Bruno Semenzato of Duke. Hemmeler and Semenzato rallied to win the lastthree games of the match and force a tiebreak. After falling behind a mini-break at 4-2, Pennington and Hirooka rallied to square the tiebreak at 4-4 before dropping the final few points to give Duke the tiebreak and the 1-0 lead in the match.
Kentucky (3-0, 0-0 SEC) then exploded out of the gates in the singles, winning five out of the first six sets in singles to gain an early advantage. The quickest first set was capped off by Kentucky’s Grant Roberts, who was a late insert into the UK singles lineup by Kauffmann and assistant coach Matt Emery after doubles, as Roberts won his first set in 21 minutes, 6-2 on court five.
Tom Jomby, ranked No. 68 in the nation, got Kentucky on the board first, recording a 6-3, 6-3 straight-set win over No. 52 Jason Tahir on court one. Jomby got up an early break in the first set, and then settled in and served out the 6-3 win in the opener, while picking up a later break in the second set to close out the 6-3, 6-3 win and square the match at 1-1.
“Tom Jomby played some unbelievable tennis today against a quality opponent and showed the type of player that he can be on court one. He didn’t give up too much and played a really solid match.” Kauffmann said.
The Wildcats took the lead for the first time in the match when Ryuji Hirooka took care of business on court six, with a 6-5 (2), 6-1 result. Hirooka found himself trailing 4-1 in the opening set, before coming from behind to force a first-set tiebreak at 5-5. Hirooka then took command of the tiebreak and won it going away at 7-2 to capture the opening set. The senior from Tokyo, Japan, had no such problems in the second set, winning it going away at 6-1.
“We wanted to test Ryuji and he responded really well on court six for us, giving us a great effort when facing adversity.” Kauffmann said.
The 2-1 Kentucky lead would quickly move to 3-1 as newcomer Jerry Lopez tallied his second-career NCAA win, 6-5 (4), 6-1. Like his teammate, Hirooka, Lopez wasdown a few games early in the first set, but rallied to force a tiebreak in the opening frame as part of four matches that went into first-set tiebreakers.Lopez served out a 7-4 tiebreak win to take the lead, and then played brilliant tennis down the stretch, earning a 6-1 second set result to take the 6-5 (4), 6-1 win and give Kentucky the two-point cushion.
“I was also really happy for Jerry Lopez, getting the win as a freshman on theroad against a very, very tough opponent. This was a big spot for him coming in as a freshman and he did a great job.” Kauffmann said.
With a 3-1 lead, senior Alejandro Gomez shined under pressure, clinching the 6-5(6), 6-5 (4) win on court three, and the win for the Wildcats. Gomez exchanged service breaks in both sets with Duke’s No. 95 Bruno Semenzato and outlasting him in both to record the win. After missing the entire second half of 2014, Gomez has returned to 100 percent health, and with the win records his first win over a ranked opponent since the 2013 ITA Kick Off Weekend.
“This was a great win for Alejandro Gomez, and a great start to his senior season. We are expecting big things from him this season, so this was a great start.” Kauffmann said.
The win over Duke marked the Wildcats’ first win in Durham since March 17, 1974, some 29 years ago, when the Wildcats knocked off the Blue Devils, 7-2. Sunday’s result also marked Kauffmann’s fifth win over a top-10 team in just his 35th match as Kentucky’s head coach.
The Wildcats will return to Lexington on Tuesday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. ET as Kentucky will host border rivals, No. 56 Indiana, at the Hilary J. Boone Varsity Tennis Center on the UK campus. Admission to the match is free.
“This was a great win for us, and now we will move forward with confidence and get ready for a good Indiana team on Tuesday.” Kauffmann said.