No. 9 Duke Narrowly Escapes See-Saw Affair with No. 8 Kentucky

May 17, 2013

CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, Ill. – After collecting five wins versus top-10 teams in the nation, advancing to the Elite Eight of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s National Team Indoor Championship, returning to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 for a school-record fourth-straight season, and having two ranked players in the top 20 a large majority of the season, the eighth-ranked University of Kentucky men’s tennis team bowed out of the NCAA Tournament with a 4-2 loss to the ninth-ranked Duke Blue Devils in a see-saw affair on Thursday night at the Atkins Tennis Complex in Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

For the fourth time in five matches, Kentucky raced out to a quick start, collecting the doubles point with wins on courts two and three, with court three’s win coming in epic fashion, in a match that took over 75 minutes to play.

On court two, freshman Beck Pennington and junior Ryuji Hirooka combined to absolutely destroy  Duke’s number-two tandem of No. 19 Michael Redlicki and Jason Tahir. Pennington and Hirooka combined to play a perfect match, not even facing one break point at al during all eight games. Pennington’s powerful serving along with Hirooka’s great touch shots blanked the Blue Devils in a swift 28 minutes to give the Wildcats the early leg up in doubles. 

On court three, senior Anthony Rossi and freshman Juan Pablo Murra nailed down a final-game win after some great points and long rallies to clinch the doubles point, 9-7 over Fred Saba and Bruno Semenzato of Duke. Murra and Rossi were up an early break at 5-2 in the match before Duke fought back to give the Blue Devils a chance with a break at 5-5. After a few holds on the Blue Devil’s part, Kentucky stepped up to the plate at 8-7, and broke to win the match 9-7. In the deciding game, Rossi and Murra combined for powerful points through and through, fighting back from a 30-0 hole and winning the match to clinch the doubles point. 

With the doubles point in hand, Kentucky had been almost automatic all season in converting the matches into wins, as the Wildcats were 15-2 this season when winning the doubles point. 

In singles play, Duke took control of the play early, dictating five of the six first sets with wins on courts one, three, four, five and six in the singles first sets. 

The first singles match to go final was on court six, as the Blue Devils evened the match with a 6-3, 6-2 win on court six as Jason Tahir edged out Beck Pennington. Pennington lost his serve at 1-0, and 3-2 before battling back to make the first set competitive, but couldn’t hold off Tahir in the final set as the Blue Devils squared the match.

The loss for Pennington was just his third all season long, as he capped off an 11-2 season, including starting off 10-0 in dual match play. Pennington played positions one, two, four, five and six during the season, including picking up wins in big Southeastern Conference showdowns against Georgia, Mississippi State, Florida, Vanderbilt and Alabama.

Tom Jomby would re-gain the lead for Kentucky at 2-1 in the match as he breezed past No. 43 Fred Saba , 6-4, 6-2 in straight sets. Jomby capitalized on numerous break point opportunities during the match, as the junior from Nantes, France, broke two times in the final frame, including at 5-2 in the final set to take the match in straight sets.

Jomby finishes the season with a 21-6 record on the season including winning six of his last seven matches, with six of those seven matches coming against ranked opponents. Jomby was named First Team All-SEC this season, and knocked off 13 ranked opponents in 16 tries. Jomby’s marquee win came against No. 4 Peter Kobelt, as he fended off Kobelt 7-3, 7-6 (3) in straight sets in Lexington.

Duke would even the match again at 2-2, when No. 121 Chris Mengel of Duke edged out Kevin Lai, 6-2, 7-5 on court four. After dropping the opening set, Lai battled back strong in the second, having the set on serve at 5-5, before Mengel broke at 6-5 and served out the 7-5 win on court four to make it 2-2.

Lai finished the season 13-6 overall, while playing numerous courts for UK this season. Lai also teamed with> Tom Jomby to form one of the toughest doubles teams’ in the country, as they are currently ranked ninth in the nation, and finished the season 16-9 in regular season play. The pair will be in action for the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships next week.

Duke would take their first lead of the match when Kentucky’s senior captain and leader, Anthony Rossi, the fifth-ranked player in the nation fell in straight sets on court one, 7-5, 6-4. 

The win for Rossi caps off one of the most amazing single-season performances in Kentucky tennis history, as he finished the singles season with a 25-6 record. During the season, Rossi had two match-clinching wins, 14 wins over ranked opponents, two wins over the fourth-ranked player in the country, a 4-3 record against top-12 players in the nation, and becoming the 15th player all-time to eclipse the 100-win mark in his career.

Rossi finishes his career with a 105-33 record, and a career winning percentage of .761, which is the highest winning percentage of any UK player in history. He was also named First Team All-SEC for the first time in his career. 

The final domino for Duke was on court six, as Grant Roberts fought incredibly hard on court five, but suffered just his eighth loss on the season, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2. Roberts fell down to an 0-4 early hole in the first set, before having a couple of break points to put it back on serve at 4-3. Duke’s No. 74 Raphael Hemmeler fought through the adversity and picked up an opening-set win. After Roberts fought back to get the second set in dramatic fashion, he was full out to the end, pushing Hemmeler to the brink on the fifth court. 

Roberts was serving at 2-2 in the third set and had two game points, before dropping his serve after an extended deuce game. Then, Hemmeler went on to win the final four games of the match, and send Duke to the Elite Eight for the second-straight season and a date with top-ranked UCLA on Saturday at 5:00 p.m.

Roberts was incredibly clutch all season long for the Wildcats, clinching six matches during the season, including wins over No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 9 Mississippi State two times, Alabama, Indiana and No. 6 Georgia at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships.

As a junior, from the Bluegrass and a graduate of Tates Creek High School, Roberts was honored this season with the SEC Community Service Award for his outstanding work in the community and the greater Lexington area.

The Wildcats’ season comes to a close with a 22-12 record, and an even 6-6 in SEC play this season. UK was under the direction of first-year head coach Cedric Kauffmann, who guided the Wildcats to their fourth-straight Sweet 16, becoming the first coach in Kentucky history to lead his team to a Sweet 16 berth in his first season as head coach. 

The Wildcats have both Anthony Rossi and> Tom Jomby competing in the NCAA Singles Championships beginning next week. Rossi will be the No. 4 overall seed, and Jomby will be an at-large selection. In the NCAA doubles championship, Jomby will team with Kevin Lai again for an at-large selection.

Updates for the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships will be available through the University of Illinois, and the University of Kentucky’s athletic websites.



NCAA Men’s Tennis Championship

Sweet 16 – Champaign-Urbana, Ill

Thursday, May 16, 2013


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

1- No. 2 Cunha/Hemmeler (DUKE) def. No. 9 Jomby/Lai (UK) 8-4

2- Hirooka/Pennington (UK) def. #19 Tahir/Redlicki (DUKE) 8-0

3- Rossi/Murra (UK) def. Saba/Semenzato (DUKE) 9-7

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

1- No. 9 Henrique Cunha (DUKE) def. No. 5 Anthony Rossi (UK) 7-5, 6-4

2- No. 23> Tom Jomby (UK) def. No. 43 Fred Saba (DUKE) 6-4, 6-2

3- Charles Minc (UK) vs. No. 46 Michael Redlicki (DUKE) 3-6, 6-3, 4-2*

4- No. 121 Chris Mengel (DUKE) def. Kevin Lai (UK) 6-2, 7-5

5- No. 74 Raphael Hemmeler (DUKE) def. Grant Roberts (UK) 6-3, 5-7, 6-2

6- Jason Tahir (DUKE) def. Beck Pennington (UK) 6-3, 6-2

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