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Set to open NCAAs, men's tennis not counting too much on home court

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Senior Tom Jomby will lead No. 15 overall seed Kentucky into a first-round matchup with Denver on Friday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Senior Tom Jomby will lead No. 15 overall seed Kentucky into a first-round matchup with Denver on Friday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Ever since the 2013 season ended in the Sweet 16, the Kentucky men's tennis team has worked toward this point.

The Wildcats practiced and played for the right to host the first two rounds NCAA Tournament, ultimately realizing their goal when they were awarded the No. 15 overall seed.

Now set to open their NCAA run, the Cats plan to put the home-court edge they wanted so badly to good use.

"It helps us a lot," said senior Tom Jomby, who will be playing his final collegiate matches at the Boone Tennis Center. "When we have the momentum in here, I feel like we're really tough to beat. It's a big advantage so we're going to use it."

Of course, facing fourth-seeded Denver (12-10) in front of home fans at 3 p.m. ET on Friday will be a boost for UK. That's not the only way playing in Lexington helps.

"It's always better," head coach Cedric Kauffmann said. "Sleeping in your own bed, we know where to eat, we know our routines, we play in front of our fans and I think that helps us. I think this is a team that loves to play in front of people. We like it. We love to play in Lexington. You can see it in our record."

UK is 21-9 overall on the season, boasting a 15-3 record on its home court and 6-6 everywhere else. The Cats have home wins over No. 1 Ohio State, No. 8 Texas A&M, No. 17 Mississippi State and No. 21 Vanderbilt, a clear sign of the team's potential to make a deep tournament run.

The Cats will take the confidence built in those victories into the postseason and balance that with reminders of what can happen when they're not on their game. Barely a month ago, UK lost to an Alabama team that failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.

"We said that in the locker room and I also said that we've lost to teams outside the (top) 30," Kauffmann said. "We lost to Alabama on the road. We know what we can do and we also know what we cannot do."

Just as the Cats must guard against another such performance, they must be sure to not rely too heavily on their home court. When doubles play begins on Friday, UK will just be playing tennis.

"We know that doesn't mean much, really," Kauffmann said. "It just makes us play on our home court and three teams are going to try to take us out."

Denver will be the first team to take a shot at UK and Clemson or Purdue will follow, should the Cats advance. The Pioneers will look to duplicate their first-round performance of a year ago when they won their first-ever NCAA Tournament match on the road at No. 15 Florida.

"I know Denver is a really good team," Jomby said. "They beat Florida in the first round last year, so we're extremely into the process to get ready."

The Cats have had to tweak their approach a bit this season, as finals week has coincided with their week to prepare for the tournament. The result has been, in Kauffmann's estimation, a "good, not great" set of practices, though he is unconcerned about his team being ready to play come Friday.

Whether UK will play inside or out is the next question. With rain in the forecast on both Friday and Saturday, there stands a chance that matches could be moved inside.

"I think we are ready for both," Kauffmann said. "I'll tell players, 'Make sure you don't want to play in or out because if that doesn't work out, mentally I think you're not going to be ready.' "

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