Kentucky Downs Vols Procures Spot in Sec Competition Last

AUBURN, Ala. – In a Saturday semifinal that lasted three and a half hours, No. 5 Kentucky (22-4) came down from 3-1 to defeat No. 9 Tennessee (21-7), 4-3, Saturday afternoon at the Yarbrough Tennis Center.

Fifth-year Alafia Ayeni saved three match balls en route to the doubles victory in the second singles, sending the cats to the SEC Tournament Finals for the second year in a row.

“Wow, I mean, what a action,” Ayeni said. “That’s What College Tennis is all about. Two great rivals are going to the wire. In the second set it seemed very difficult to me, I had to save three match balls on his serve, but I’m just very proud of the way the team helped me action my way through. The team that is there for me and that supports me is what pushed me to victory.”

Saturday’s victory avenges a 4-0 loss by the Wildcats in Knoxville in the regular season and secures Kentucky a place in tomorrow’s conference championship game against Georgia or Texas A&M. Great Britain also reached the SEC tournament championship in 2022, finally falling to Florida.

The game started with a double action as Kentucky stole both points from the Vols with second and third place wins. After Ayeni and Taha Baadi were defeated by top five Pat Harper and Johannus Monday, the third double Jaden Weekes and Liam Draxl evened things up with a 6-2 victory over Angel Diaz and Martim Prata. That left the two points in the hands of Court two, where the number 67 duo, JJ Mercer and Joshua Lapadat, emerged victorious in the tiebreaker and put the cats in the lead.

When both teams switched to singles, both teams won the first three sets and set up what was certainly a tight finish. The volunteers would get the next three points as Tomas Rodriguez, Shunsuke Mitsui and Angel Diaz all got the win to give Tennessee a 3-1 lead. However, Kentucky reacted quickly as Lapadat and Draxl recorded straight-sets wins to tie the match by three. Lapadat beat Blaise Bicknell of the Volunteers, while Draxl, currently n°19 of the ITA, won his best victory of the season, crushing the N° 2 on Monday 6-4, 6-4 in the first singles.

These results left a point to be awarded, because Ayeni (n ° 25) and Emile Hudd (n ° 32) faced each other in the second singles. After losing the first set 6-1, Ayeni faced a Trio of match points in the second set, with Hudd serving 6-5 and pushing them back to force a tiebreak. The San Diego, Calif. native would win the Breaker 7-5 and take the Match to a decisive third set. The two opponents exchanged early breaks before Ayeni finally took advantage with another break on serve at 3-3. Cornell’s transfer served out the Match, stopping in the last game at Love for a 6-4 victory.

“We have a lot of respect for Tennessee,” head coach Cedric Kauffmann said. “They are a well-coached team and they work very hard. What a heart [all the way] to the wire. I’m just very proud of my boys and we still have a lot of work to do.”

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