By Tyler Spanyer | @KernelSpanyer
UK men’s tennis secured qualification for the ITA National Indoor Championships on Saturday after winning the ITA Regional Kick-Off Tournament at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center.
No. 9 UK (5-0-1) first knocked off Michigan State in the regional semifinal before overcoming No. 17 Texas in the final.
“This win is big,” UK head coach Cedric Kauffmann said following the win over Texas. “Other than our fans and players there were not a lot of people around the country who had faith in us to win today.”
The Cats defeated Michigan State on Friday afternoon, 4-2. The Cats again won the doubles point, which Kauffmann had stressed in practice would be vital if his squad were to qualify.
“It’s always important to get the doubles point,” he said. “It is very hard to win four of the six singles matches, so from a confidence standpoint it is very important.”
Junior Tom Jomby and freshman Kevin Lai won, 8-5, to continue their strong start to start the year, while senior Anthony Rossi and junior Grant Roberts clinched the point with another 8-5 victory.
Heading into singles, the Cats got another solid performance from Jomby, who needed less than an hour to beat Michigan State’s Drew Lied, 6-0, 6-1.
The Cats got another boost in the singles from Rossi, who won 6-2, 7-6 over Aaron Pfisterto to give the Cats a 3-0 lead overall. A 6-3, 6-0 win for sophomore Charles Minc gave the Cats the 4-2 win.
Heading into the final, Kauffmann noted how his team’s performance would have to be “much better” Saturday to win the regional.
The Cats got strong performances from Jomby/Lai and juniors Alejandro Gomez and Ryuji Hirooka to capture the doubles point as the match with Texas got under way. UK has won every doubles point so far this year.
Heading into singles, Jomby again showed his prowess. The Frenchman dispatched his opponent in quick fashion with a 6-0, 6-1 win to move to 4-0 in singles on the year, winning every first set 6-0 in the process.
“Tom has always been this talented,” Kauffmann said. “We really had to work mentally with him to get him to buy in.”
After taking the 2-0 lead, the Cats needed a pair of three-set thrillers to win the match. Rossi improved to 5-0 on the year with his victory over the Spartans’ Soren Hess-Olesen, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.
Minutes later Gomez upset Michigan State’s Daniel Whitehead 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 to give UK the win and qualification to the national championships.
“I am so proud of Gomez,” Kauffmann said. “He is coming off surgery and was feeling down after losing his matches against IU (Indiana University) and Michigan State, but he told his teammates that he was not going to lose today. That took a lot of pride, and I am very proud of his win today.”
UK is next in action Sunday against No. 8 Oklahoma. The match gets underway at 1 p.m. at the Boone Tennis Center.