STARKVILLE, Miss. -- The sixth-ranked University of Kentucky men’s tennis team used a come-from-behind effort in doubles and a strong performance in singles to earn a 4-0 victory over No. 43 Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals on Friday at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre in Starkville, Miss.
The win advances Kentucky (25-4) to the semifinals of the event for the second consecutive season and the sixth time since 1990. The Wildcats will face the winner of fourth-seeded Florida and fifth-seeded Ole Miss on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET. Second-seeded Georgia and third-seeded Mississippi State will play in the first semifinal match Saturday at Noon ET.
“Your first match in the SEC Tournament is always the toughest,” UK head coach Dennis Emery said. “I thought that our guys handled everything pretty well tonight.”
UK has now won 25 matches or more for three consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. UK won a school-record 25 matches in 2010 before shattering that record last year with 29 wins. The win over Vanderbilt on Friday was Kentucky’s 25th win of the 2012 spring season.
The victory over Vanderbilt (8-15) was the 10th consecutive for Kentucky this season, which ties the longest winning streak of the year. UK started the spring season with 10 consecutive wins. The Wildcats have now won 20 of its last 21 SEC matches, including 16 consecutive SEC regular season matches.
The Wildcats began the match with a thrilling performance in doubles, getting wins at courts one and three. UK’s top duo of No. 12 Eric Quigley and Panav Jha started the action in doubles with a strong 8-4 victory over No. 17 Gonzalez Austin and Alex DiValerio 8-4. Kentucky was trailing by at least one break in the other two doubles matches, including down a break 7-5 at court three. Sophomore Alejandro Gomez and Tom Jomby would mount a comeback at three doubles, holding serve to cut the lead to 7-6 and then breaking back under pressure to tie it 7-7. After both teams held serve to force a tiebreaker, UK would take control of the match, running out to a big lead in the breaker to grab the match over Charlie Jones and Alex DiValerior 9-8 (1). The Wildcats are now 18-0 when they win the doubles point this season.
“We had a great comeback in the doubles at No. 3,” Emery said. “We were down a break and the other team was serving for the match, but we continue to do well in that position. We started making some first serves and that really played to our advantage.”
UK continued to perform well in singles action, winning four of six first sets to take control of the match. Gomez finished first in singles, giving Kentucky a 2-0 lead with his straight-sets win at No. 5 singles over Anton Kovrigin. The native of Cali, Colombia, used a come-from-behind effort in the first set, erasing a break late in the set to grab the 6-4 win. The sophomore then rolled in the second set 6-0 to post the win.
“I thought a big key to the match was him winning that first set because at that time things were really close,” Emery said about Gomez winning the first set. “What I was really pleased about with him was he was down and he figured out what he was doing wrong and started playing the way we wanted him to play. That is what excited me. Not that he won but how he won.”
Junior Anthony Rossi, who is ranked 19th in the nation in singles by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, put Kentucky up 3-0 with a key win at No. 3 singles. Rossi also fell behind in the first set before winning consecutive games to erase the break and grab the 6-4 win. The native of Marseille, France, used the same format to win in the second set, breaking Jeff Offerdahl at 5-4 to win the set and the match.
“Rossi is just really good when he decides he is going to be locked in and focused on the match,” Emery said. “The bigger the match the better he plays and I think that is probably the best thing he has. He fell behind in both of those sets but locked in his concentration and did a job of doing some things he needed to do and play the way he needed to play.”
Jomby then clinched the decisive fourth point for Kentucky, taking down Blake Bazarnik in straight sets. The native of Nantes, France, controlled much of the first set to secure a 6-3 win before he and the talented VU player went back and forth in the second set. Both players held serve late in the set to force a tiebreaker, while Bazarnik jumped out to an early 4-1 lead in the breaker. Jomby would fight back, winning six consecutive points to earn the breaker and give UK the victory.
“The guy Tom beat today has been playing three a lot this year and he is a really great player,” Emery said. “Tom was up a break in the second set and let it slip away, but he kept his composure and forced a tiebreaker. Then even when he got down in the breaker, he kept his composure again. He finished a lot of points at the net tonight and that was a key to match.”
Kentucky has had a lot of success this season against the best teams in the nation, holding a 21-4 record against currently ranked teams. The Wildcats also have four wins against top-10 teams this season, while they hold a 10-3 record against teams currently ranked in the top 25. UK has won a total of 30 matches against top-25 ranked teams since the start of the 2009 season.
Kentucky defeated both Florida and Ole Miss during its historic 11-0 run through its SEC regular-season slate. Both wins came in Lexington where UK took down the Gators 4-3 and the Rebels 5-2. UK and Florida met three times last season, including a showdown in the SEC Tournament finals, which UF would win. UK and Ole Miss last met in the SEC Tournament in 2010 when the fifth-seeded Rebels took down the fourth-seeded Wildcats in the quarterfinals in Lexington.
“I thought we did a good job in singles today, coming out and taking care of business,” Emery said. “We didn’t lengthen things out to much so hopefully our legs will be fresh for the semifinals.”
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.
SEC Men’s Tennis Tournament
No. 6 Kentucky 4, No. 43 Vanderbilt 0
A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre – Starkville, Miss.
Friday, April 20, 2012
1 – No. 3 Eric Quigley (UK) vs. No. 40 Charlie Jones (VU) DNF
2 – No. 14 Alex Musialek (UK) vs. No. 102 Gonzales Austin (VU) DNF
3 – No. 19 Anthony Rossi (UK) def. Jeff Offerdahl (VU) 6-4, 6-4
4 – No. 76 Tom Jomby (UK) def. Blake Bazarnik (VU) 6-3, 7-6 (4)
5 – No. 110 Alejandro Gomez (UK) def. Anton Kovrigin (VU) 6-4, 6-0
6 – No. 112 Panav Jha (UK) vs. Alex DiValerio (VU) DNF
1 – No. 12 Panav Jha/Eric Quigley (UK) def. No. 17 Gonzales Austin/Alex DiValerio (VU) 8-4
2 – No. 37 Alex Musialek/Anthony Rossi (UK) def. Blake Bazarnik/Jeff Offerdahl (VU) DNF
3 – Tom Jomby/Alejandro Gomez (UK) def. Charlie Jones/Joe Dorn (VU) 9-8 (1)
Order of Finish
Singles – 5, 3, 4*
Doubles 1, 3*