Doubled Up; Kentucky Blanks LSU, Advances to SEC Semifinals
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Fourth-seeded Kentucky dealt fifth-seeded LSU its second SEC Tournament quarterfinal loss in as many seasons Friday, as the 15th-ranked Cats defeated the 13th-ranked Tigers by a 4-0 count at Vanderbilt’s Brownlee O. Currey Tennis Center. Kentucky (18-8) posts its third-consecutive victory over LSU (17-6) and its second this season. UK dealt LSU a 6-1 defeat last month in Lexington.
Kentucky began by capturing the doubles point, marking the first time the Tigers had surrendered doubles play in 11 matches. UK was the last team to earn the doubles point against LSU, doing so in the teams’ Mar. 19 match. LSU started off with an 8-3 victory at No. 3 courtesy of Peter Richman and Ken Skupski over Kentucky’s Nate Emge and Tigran Martirosyan. At the No. 2 slot, UK’s Evan Austin and Alex Hume claimed seven of the last nine games for an 8-4 victory over LSU’s Cory Ross and Sebastian Rutka. Kentucky’s Rahim Esmail and Jesse Witten broke the LSU serve of Bryan Fisher and Jason Hazley early on before the Tigers rallied to break even. With the Cats trailing 8-7 and 15-40 in the final game, Witten produced two powerful serves to tie the game. The Cats claimed the next two points to send the set to a tiebreaker. Kentucky trailed 5-3 but took the next four points to clinch the Wildcat doubles point.
Kentucky’s momentum continued into singles play. At the No. 3 slot, UK’s Martirosyan made short work of LSU’s Fisher, putting the Cats up 2-0 with an easy 6-2, 6-2 victory. UK’s Witten broke LSU’s Skupski’s serve in the eighth game and went on to a 6-4 first-set win at first singles. Witten took control in the second set, cruising to a 6-2 win for a 3-0 Kentucky lead.
The five slot featured quite a battle between Kentucky’s Esmail and LSU’s Rutka. Esmail fell behind 5-3 before breaking back and eventually taking a 6-5 lead. Rutka subsequently broke even and forced a tiebreaker. Esmail took a 6-1 lead, but Rutka claimed five-consecutive points to break even. A powerful serve from Esmail put him on top 7-6, and an errant Rutka return on the following point gave the set to Esmail. Rutka and Esmail remained on serve throughout the second set until Esmail emerged to win the final game to earn the second-set win at 7-5 and clinch the Cats’ quarterfinal victory.
“This was a really good college match and a hard-fought win for us,” UK Coach Dennis Emery said. “The key was winning the doubles after LSU had won the doubles point in their last 11 matches. We were able to gut it out at the one and two positions and that set the tone for the match. It’s great to have your senior team captain (Rahim Esmail) clinch a match at the conference tournament.”
The match was delayed an hour to allow drying time for the rain-soaked outdoor courts. Damp conditions persisted throughout the delay, and the match later was moved indoors.
The Cats will meet the winner of today’s Ole Miss-Auburn match in the SEC Tournament semifinals Saturday at 10 a.m. CDT. Live scoring will be available at www.vucommodores.com.
No. 15 Kentucky 4, No. 13 LSU 0
Doubles 1. No. 23 Esmail/Witten (UK) def. No. 16 Fisher/Hazley (LSU) – 9-8(5) 2. Austin/Hume (UK) def. No. 44 Ross/Rutka (LSU) – 8-4 3. Richman/Skupski (LSU) def. Emge/Martirosyan (UK) – 8-3