UK Ousted From ITA's In Penn State's Four-Point Comeback
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The University of Kentucky men's tennis team had a 3-0 lead over the No. 26 Penn State Nittany Lions on Friday afternoon in the opening round of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's National Team Indoor Championships before Penn State rallied to win the final four matches on court to claim a 4-3 win and advance to the regional final on Saturday afternoon.
Kentucky took the 1-0 lead thanks to doubles wins in courts one and two from two doubles teams who have led the way all season at the top for the Wildcats. Beck Pennington and Kevin Lai moved to 4-1 on the season with a 6-2 win on court two, while William Bushamuka and Jerry Lopez also won 6-2 on court two to clinch the doubles point and get Kentucky out to a solid start.
In singles, Kentucky took the first two matches, as Pennington ousted Leo Stakhovsky of Penn State 6-3, 6-3 with three breaks of serve in the match to run his record this year to 4-1 on court one. Pennington has now won two matches in a row and leads Kentucky in the singles win column this season.
"I felt like today we started pretty solid with doubles," Pennington said. "I felt really confident going into singles and we have a lot of young players that were in critical situations today and I think we can get better from this. We will grow and get better, but a loss of this magnitude stings."
After breaking at four all of the opening set, sophomore Jerry Lopez captured the first set 6-4 and then had two breaks of serve in the final set, including at 5-2 to claim the match 6-4, 6-2 for his fourth win of the season. Lopez grinded out long rallies all afternoon, and was only broken once in the match as the Wildcats pushed their lead to 3-0 overall.
"It was a disappointing loss," Lopez said. "After the doubles, I felt really confident we were going to win. After seeing Beck and I win singles, I felt like we had everything under control. I tried to give support to the freshman because I knew they would be feeling the pressure. I'm disappointed in the way that we lost such a tight match, but I know we will get better."
Penn State would respond with a straight-sets win on court four as Kevin Lai lost his third straight singles match this season, falling 6-4, 6-4. Lai and his opponent, Penn State's Matt Berry, exchanged breaks of serve the first seven games of the match before things settled down and Berry was able to serve out the 6-4 opening frame. In the second set at 4-4, Lai was broken and then fell in the final game to give the Nittany Lions the lead.
"I thought I was playing well with all the service breaks early," Lai said. "In the beginning of a few points, I couldn't close the match or hold my serve. I'll go back and get better after this match."
PSU would make it 3-2 as Roman Trkulja scored a three-set win over Kentucky's William Bushamuka 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 on court three. Bushamuka broke at 4-4 in the second set to force a decisive third set on court three. Bushamuka then went down an early break and was never able to recover.
On court five, Trey Yates had the 5-4 lead and was serving for the opening set before losing his serve and dropping the set, 7-5. He rallied back to take the second set 6-2, and even took an early break lead in the third set at 3-2. Yates then served for a 5-3 lead but was broken for three all and things ended up in a tiebreak. PSU won seven of the tiebreaker's eight points to square the match 3-3.
"Coming in, I knew the match was coming down to the wire," Yates said. "It's a tough way to go out to be up 4-3 in the third set and not come away with the win. I am looking forward to getting better in tomorrow's match."
In the deciding match, Jake Stefanik took the first set, 7-5, before falling in the second 6-4. Much like Yates' final set, Stefanik was up a break early in the third frame at 3-2 before dropping serve and wound up losing the final four games of the match as the Nittany Lions rallied to win 6-3 in the final set.
"It was a long match," Stefanik said. "I thought I played well and gave myself a lot of opportunities to win the match and come away with the win. I'll get better from this experience and move on."
Kentucky faces the loser of the other regional semifinal between Vanderbilt and South Florida on Saturday afternoon in Lexington.
2015 ITA Kick-Off Weekend - Lexington Sub-Regional
26 Penn State 4, No. 19 Kentucky 3
Hilary J. Boone Varsity Tennis Center - Lexington, Ky.
Jan. 23, 2015
Doubles: (Order of finish: 1, 3, 2*)
1- Beck Pennington/Kevin Lai (UK) def. Leo Stakhovsky/Mike Reilly (PSU) 6-2
2- Jerry Lopez/William Bushamuka (UK) def. Aws Laaribi/Roman Trkulja (PSU) 6-2
3- Alex Fennell/Matt Berry (PSU) def. Trey Yates/Nils Ellefsen (UK) 6-1
Singles: (Order of finish: 1, 2, 4, 3, 5, 6*)
1- No. 96 Beck Pennington (UK) def. Leo Stakhovsky (PSU) 6-3, 6-3
2- Jerry Lopez (UK) def. Alex Fennell (PSU) 6-4, 6-2
3- Roman Trkulja (PSU) def. William Bushamuka (UK) 6-4, 4-6, 6-1
4- Matt Berry (PSU) def. Kevin Lai (UK) 6-4, 6-4
5- Aws Laaribi (PSU) def. Trey Yates (UK) 7-5, 2-6, 7-6 (1)
6- Tomas Hanzlik (PSU) def. Jake Stefanik (UK) 3-6, 6-4, 6-3
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