Kentucky Rallies To Topple LSU in SEC Opener Behind Three-Set Comebacks

Feb. 28, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The No. 25 University of Kentucky men's tennis team came from behind on the road in its Southeastern Conference season opener on Friday night to rally and collect a 5-2 win over No. 73 Louisiana State behind three come-from-behind, three-set singles wins and two straight-set wins in singles play at the Dub Robinson Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

In doubles, Kentucky (8-4, 1-0 SEC) and LSU dueled to the final point, as the Wildcats' pair of senior Ryuji Hirooka and Nils Ellefsen fell in a tiebreak on the deciding court to give the Tigers the early leg up in the match. Hirooka and Ellefson's match on court three was the tightest of the three doubles matches, as no team ever got up by more than a break.

LSU (5-4, 0-1 SEC) took the 7-6 lead late, before Hirooka and Ellefsen forced a tiebreak and eventually lost 7-5 in the breaker. The loss was the first for Hirooka and Ellefsen, who were 12-0 heading into play on Friday.

"Nils and I didn't play good in doubles today, but we had a lot of opportunities to win," Hirooka said. "Next time we have to get those opportunities to go our way in the doubles point. As a team, we have a long season, so we have to take care of each match in order to win the SEC Championship."

"I think we gave it our all on every court," Ellefsen said after the match. "Everyone was fighting until the very last point was finished.

The Wildcats' lone doubles win came on court one, where senior Tom Jomby and sophomore Kevin Lai knocked off No. 20 Chris Simpson/Boris Arias on court one, 8-4. It's the third time this season that Jomby and Lai have knocked off a ranked doubles opponent, and they upped their season doubles record to 7-4 on the season.

In singles, Kentucky got off to a slow start on some courts, but caught fire about an hour into the singles competition and was able to secure the win with five singles wins, on courts one, two, three, four and six.

The Wildcats quickly squared the match at 1-1 overall courtesy of a straight-sets win from senior Grant Roberts, as the Lexington, Ky., native shellacked Harrison Kennedy of LSU, 6-4, 6-2 on court six. Roberts was in total control from start to finish in the match and never allowed Kennedy to gain any momentum. The win for Roberts was  the 47th of his career, as he ups his record to 4-2 in 2014.

"I thought today was a good win," Roberts said. "We needed to start off our SEC schedule with a win. I'm really proud of all my teammates. Everyone fought hard and battled through to beat a good team with a tough crowd against us."

On court one, Jomby continued his dominant play of late, as he put Kentucky in the lead for the first time in the match with a 6-3, 6-3 win on court one over No. 109 Chris Simpson. Jomby was up 3-2 in the opening set before pulling away, and never let Simpson in the second set to secure his 11th singles win of the season. Jomby now holds an 11-1 mark in singles play this season.

"I've been working on my footwork a lot with our (volunteer assistant coach) Anthony Rossi," Jomby said after his win. "I have been moving better and better each match and I think it's starting to pay off. I'm happy we started off the SEC season with a win, but we have a long way to go to achieve all of our goals."

No. 99 Beck Pennington locked up a 3-1 lead for the Willdcats with the first of two come-from-behind, three-set wins for Kentucky on court three. Pennington picked up his third win of the season on Friday night with a 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Andrew Korinek. Pennington dropped the opening set and then rallied to win 12 of the last 15 games coming down the stretch to lock up the two-point lead for the Wildcats.

"I felt like we really came together as a team today," Pennington said after the match. "We had a couple of tough matches in doubles, but we bounced back well and gave it our all on each court. Hopefully this match will give us some confidence as we begin play in the Southeastern Conference."

LSU would cut Kentucky's lead to 3-2 a few minutes later, as Kevin Lai's late rally on court five was not enough. Lai dropped the first set 6-2 before rallying to force a decisive third set at 6-3 in the second set. After Lai and Justin Butsch of LSU were 1-1 in the third set, Butsch won the final handful of games in the set and collected a three-set win at 6-1 in the third over Lai.

"It was good for Tom and I to get some momentum back in doubles today," Lai said. "We took care of singles play very well today and that is going to help us be the team we want to become down the road."

The clinching match for Kentucky came on court four for the first time all season, as Jerry Lopez, the freshman from Mexico, clinched his first-career match with a come-from-behind, there-set win over Tam Trihn of LSU, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Lopez dropped the first set, before turning up his play to a different level and winning eight of the final 11 games of the match to collect the win. The win for Lopez ups his singles record to 7-4 in his first season at Kentucky.

Senior Alejandro Gomez also collected a win on court two, giving Kentucky a 5-1 edge in singles play over the Tigers. Gomez knocked off Boris Arias of Louisiana State, to collect his sixth win of the season and up his singles record to 6-2 on the year. Gomez was the third UK player to drop his opening set and then rally to win the next two sets to win. The Cali, Colombia, native dropped the opening frame in a tiebreak at 7-5, before winning the successive sets, 6-3, 6-4 to collect the win.

"This was a tough match today," Gomez said. "Everyone fought until the end and it was a great way for us to start off SEC play for the season."

The win for Kentucky puts the Wildcats at 8-4 overall, and starts the conference slate off with a 1-0 record through the first slate of matches in the SEC season. The Wildcats will next fly to Fayetteville, Ark., for a match with No. 66 Arkansas on Sunday afternoon. That match will begin at 2 p.m. ET in Arkansas.


No. 25 Kentucky 5, No. 73 LSU 2

Dub Robinson Stadium - Baton Rouge, La.

Friday, Feb. 28, 2014

Doubles (Order of finish: 1, 2, 3*)

1- Tom Jomby/Kevin Lai (UK) def. No. 20 Chris Simpson/Boris Arias (LSU) 8-4

2- Justin Butsch/Tim Trinh (LSU) def. Beck Pennington/Alejandro Gomez (UK) 8-6

3- Andrew Korinek/Eric Perez (LSU) def. Ryuji Hirooka/Nils Ellefsen (UK) 8-7 (5)

Singles (Order of finish: 6, 1, 3, 5, 4,* 2)

1-. No. 14 Tom Jomby (UK) def. No. 109 Chris Simpson (LSU) 6-3, 6-3

2- Alejandro Gomez (UK) def. Boris Arias (LSU) 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4

3- No. 99 Beck Pennington (UK) def. Andrew Korinek (LSU) 1-6, 6-2, 6-3

4- Jerry Lopez (UK) def. Tam Trinh (LSU) 4-6, 6-4, 6-2

5- Justin Butsch (LSU) def. Kevin Lai (UK) 6-2, 3-6, 6-1

6- Grant Roberts (UK) def. Harrison Kennedy (LSU) 6-4, 6-2

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