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Kauffmann likes early returns for men's tennis

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Cedric Kauffmann doesn't often make it through interviews without being asked about what it's like to replace a legend. The former Kentucky player and assistant is in his first season as head coach after Dennis Emery - winner of 655 matches and the architect of the UK program - retired last spring, so that's understandable.

Two of his players - Anthony Rossi and Alex Musialek - find themselves in similar situations.

Eric Quigley and Alex Musialek finished their UK careers ranked first and ninth, respectively, on the school's all-time singles wins list. They spent the last three seasons leading off the UK lineup in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, culminating in an undefeated run through the Southeastern Conference during their senior year.

Like Emery, they moved on this offseason, leaving it up to Rossi and Jomby to step into the roles that had been filled for so long. Kauffmann doesn't look at it quite that way though.

"They'll never replace Quigley and they'll never replace Musialek," Kauffmann said. "I'm just asking them to be Jomby and Rossi. If they do that, I think it's going to be good enough for us to do well."

So far, they have done that. So far, Kauffmann is right.

Five matches into the indoor season, the ninth-ranked Wildcats are unbeaten. They breezed through 7-0 wins over in-state foes Northern Kentucky and Morehead State to start with, then dispatched No. 22 Indiana on the road and No. 47 Michigan State and No. 17 Texas at home to clinch a spot in the ITA National Indoor Championships.

Twelve different players have played in the five matches and each has been unique, but there have been two common threads.

The first is Rossi and Jomby.

In all but one match this season - when Jomby sat out one match of a season-opening doubleheader - UK's top two singles players have earned two points for their team. In fact, they have combined to win 18 of their 19 sets en route to a 9-0 record. The only loss came when Rossi dropped the opening set to 31st-ranked Soren Hess-Olesen of Texas in a tiebreaker before taking the final two sets and the win.

Rossi opened the season ranked No. 94 and Jomby No. 15. Both figure to make a significant jumps when new rankings are released on Feb. 5, especially if they perform well when UK hosts No. 8 Oklahoma on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. The match will be the first played this season between two teams ranked in the top 10 nationally.

If the Cats are to succeed, they will get a significant boost if the other trend from the first five matches of 2013 holds up.

Kauffmann learned from Emery the importance of the doubles, which is why UK spends "30 to 40 percent" of its practice time working on doubles even though it counts for just one of the seven points that comprise each match. It is so vital because it's the first point decided in each match and can set the tone for the remainder of the proceedings.

In fact, the doubles point has done exactly that in each of UK's outings; the Cats are a perfect 5-0 in doubles.

"They've done good," Kauffmann said of the doubles point. "They're listening. We still have a lot of work to go."

Kauffmann has used doubles as an opportunity to build experience with a deep and largely young roster. UK has five first-year players and their coach calls the way they have embraced the demands of playing collegiate tennis his "best surprise," but they haven't necessarily gotten to play as much as they want.

"We're just very deep," Kauffmann said. "We have 13 players on the team and we only play six. They'll get their turn to shine."

It's much easier to ask for patience when the victories are piling up.

"I want my kids to get better," Kauffmann said. "I had a great time at Kentucky (as a player), so I'm trying to have them have a good time. But it's always easier when you're winning, so we're going to work hard to keep winning."

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