Men's Tennis
Cats Claw Back to Defeat Fighting Illini in Road Opener

Cats Claw Back to Defeat Fighting Illini in Road Opener

by Aliyah McDaniel

URBANA, Ill. – Behind three-set victories from Eli Stephenson and Taha Baadi, No. 10 Kentucky Men’s Tennis (3-0) survived its first road contest of the 2024 season, taking down the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois (1-1) at the Atkins Tennis Center, 4-3, on Saturday.

In the doubles’ session, the duo of Josh Lapadat and JJ Mercer soared to a 6-4 win over the No. 4 ranked doubles team of Hunter Heck and Karlis Ozolins. The Illini would win on courts two and three, however, earning the doubles’ point as Oliver Okonkwo and Lucas Horve defeated Baadi and Matt Rankin 6-1, and Kenta Miyoshi and Mathis Debru notched a 7-6(8) win over Stephenson and Jaden Weekes.

Kentucky found itself down early, but would secure the required four points in singles play after a pair of decisive third sets broke the way of the Wildcats.

Sophomore Charlelie Cosnet gave UK its first point with his 6-2, 6-3 victory at fourth singles over Okonkwo. The fighting Illini would add another point from court one, before freshman Matt Rankin squared the match for the Cats with his win over Jeremy Zhang at sixth singles.

The home team would go up again with a win from Heck, putting the pressure on the Cats to score consecutively on courts two and five, where both matches would go the distance. Stephenson, the Kentucky native, would level the score at three, number five coming from behind to defeat William Mroz, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

With the match’s outcome hinging on court two, Baadi, who led the Wildcats in clinches last season, worked his late match magic once again, prevailing over Miyoshi 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3.

Kentucky returns home to the Boone Tennis Center this Friday and Saturday as the Wildcats host Notre Dame, Alabama and Nebraska for ITA Kickoff Weekend. UK will begin its quest to return to ITA Indoor Nationals by taking on the Fighting Irish on Friday at 1 p.m.


Court 1: Lapadat/Mercer (UK) def. No. 4 Heck/Ozolins (ILL): 6-4

Court 2:  Okonkwo/Horve (ILL) def. Baadi/Rankin (UK) : 6-1

Court 3: Miyoshi/ Debru (ILL) def. Stephenson/Weekes (UK) : 7-6(8)

Order of finish: 2, 1, 3


Court 1: No. 55 Karlis Ozolins (ILL) def. Joshua Lapadat (UK): 6-3, 6-2

Court 2: Taha Baadi (UK) def. No. 17 Kenta Miyoshi (ILL): 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3

Court 3: No. 46 Hunter Heck (ILL) def. Jack Loutit (UK): 6-4, 6-4

Court 4: Charlelie Cosnet (UK) def. Oliver Okonkwo (ILL): 6-3, 6-2

Court 5: Eli Stephenson (UK) def. William Mroz (ILL): 4-6, 6-3, 6-3

Court 6: Matt Rankin (UK) def. Jeremy Zhang (ILL): 6-4, 6-1

Order of finish: 4, 1, 6, 3, 5, 2

For the latest on UK Men’s Tennis, follow the Wildcats on X and Instagram at @UKMensTennis.

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