Wildcats Dominate in Singles to Advance to First-Ever NCAA Championship
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The eight seed Kentucky Wildcats defeated the four seed Ohio State Buckeyes in the NCAA Tournament Semifinal, 4-1, on Saturday at the Atkins Tennis Center. Despite dropping the doubles point, UK took over in singles competition to elevate the team to its first national championship appearance in school history.
The Wildcats will take on seventh-seed Virginia in Sunday’s national title match, which will be played at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex at 4 p.m. ET in Champaign, Illinois. The Cavaliers last won the NCAA title in 2017.
Kentucky star Liam Draxl shined the brightest with all eyes on court one. After dropping the first set, the reigning Intercollegiate Tennis Association Player of the Year emptied the tank, winning two consecutive sets against No. 9 Cannon Kingsley for a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory, earning the match-clinching point for UK.
“Your teammates and your coaches, they provide all that energy when you’re grinding in that third set,” said Draxl. “Probably 25% comes from you, but the other 75% comes from your teammates and the energy that they provide for you. And they helped me to get over that finish line.”
Ohio State came out with high energy and played aggressively early in doubles competition, jumping out to an early advantage on courts one and three. However, Kentucky could not overcome its deficit, as four-seed OSU was able to use its lead to win the doubles point.
Prepared for a battle and having to come back from dropping the doubles point before, the Wildcats did not allow the Buckeyes’ early point to affect their singles play. UK started strong, opening with leads on four courts and claiming first sets on two, three and four.
The first to win their match was No. 21 Gabriel Diallo. The junior put together a fast first set that allowed him to take a lead thanks to a 6-3 result. He continued to control his match against 13th-ranked Matej Vocel, winning the second set, 6-2, and tying the match at one each.
No. 83 Millen Hurrion started his first set with fierce determination, creating early separation after a 6-1 result heading into the second set against No. 19 Tracy. Much like Diallo, the fifth year was able to maintain his strong play and claimed a win with a 6-2 second set. He was able to win deuce points at different moments throughout the second set to keep his opponent at bay. The victory marked the highest-ranked opponent Hurrion has defeated this year and gave UK a 2-1 lead.
Graduate student Francois Musitelli entered into a tight contest with No. 122 Jake Van Emburgh, but the Wildcat prevailed 6-4 to earn a fiercely competitive first set. However, he fell behind early in the second, trailing by two games. After forcing a deuce point, the Dijon, France native capitalized to chip away at his opponent. As the set continued, Musitelli found himself down 6-5 against Van Emburgh. He saved four consecutive set points, winning the key game and forcing a tiebreaker.
Musitelli would go on to win the tiebreaker, claiming the extra set, 7-6(4), and putting the Wildcats at match point. With a trip to its first national title match berth on the line, Kentucky was in good position as it led on the three remaining courts.
No. 113 Joshua Lapadat was moments away from claiming his match in the fifth spot at the time Draxl secured the decisive point, as he led Justin Boulais 3-6, 6-1, 5-0. JJ Mercer was also forming a sizeable lead of his own on court six, as he held a 2-6, 7-6(3), 3-1 advantage over Andrew Lutschaunig.
Ultimately, it was Draxl who got the clinch first with his 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Kingsley on court one to keep the Wildcats dancing.
Head coach Cedric Kauffmann credits every person on the roster for such a monumental win.
“Our guys on the bench, they’ve done such a good job cheering for their teammates,” said Kauffmann. “All 11 were together for about 45 minutes, and we took them [Ohio State] down.”
The Wildcats have played the last two remaining teams this season, both coming at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex. Kentucky fell to Virginia, 4-2, on March 31 before winning against Tennessee on April 8 by a 4-3 final.
#8 Kentucky 4, #4 Ohio State 1
1. #4 Liam Draxl (UK) def. #9 Cannon Kingsley (OSU) 2-6, 6-3, 6-2
2. #21 Gabriel Diallo (UK) def. #13 Matej Vocel (OSU) 6-3, 6-2
3. #83 Millen Hurrion (UK) def. #19 JJ Tracy (OSU) 6-1, 6-2
4. Francois Musitelli (UK) def. #122 Jake Van Emburgh (OSU) 6-4, 7-6 (7-4)
5. #113 Joshua Lapadat (UK) vs. Justin Boulais (OSU) vs. 3-6, 6-1, 5-0, unfinished
6. JJ Mercer (UK) vs. Andrew Lutschaunig (OSU) 2-6, 7-6 (7-3), 3-1, unfinished
Order of finish: 2, 3, 4, 1*
1. #2 Matej Vocel/Robert Cash (OSU) def. #55 Millen Hurrion/Francois Musitelli (UK) 6-3
2. Andrew Lutschaunig/Justin Boulais (OSU) vs. Gabriel Diallo/Joshua Lapadat (UK) 4-4, unfinished
3. Cannon Kingsley/JJ Tracy (OSU) def. Liam Draxl/Alexandre LeBlanc (UK) 6-1
Order of finish: 3, 1*
For the latest on the Kentucky men’s tennis team, follow @UKMensTennis on Twitter and Facebook, @kentuckymenstennis on Instagram, and on the web at UKAthletics.com.
For more information contact:
Ryan Cullinane (email@example.com) – (859) 257-8309