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No. 5 Kentucky men’s tennis claims SEC Title, finishes league play undefeated

Sydney Yonker
Kentucky freshman Jack Loutit hits the ball during the Kentucky vs. Virginia mens tennis match on Sunday Feb. 4, 2024, at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 4-3. Photo by Sydney Yonker | Staff

No. 5 Kentucky men’s tennis hosted its final conference matches of the season over the weekend, where it took down No. 38 Georgia on Friday, April 12, and No. 6 Tennessee on Sunday, April 14, to earn the title of regular season SEC Champions. 

The Wildcats ended things early against Georgia, winning 4-1 in an eventful evening in Lexington.

The match, set to start at 5 p.m. EST, was pushed back to 6 p.m. in an attempt to play outside.  

Kentucky began doubles play in the cold, but due to rainy weather, stopped halfway through. Both SEC teams retreated indoors and began warming up again. 

Finally, an hour and a half after the initial start time, the Wildcats reserved inside the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex. 

Taha Baadi and Jack Loutit struck first for the Wildcats, winning 6-3, and improving to 6-2 as a pair this season.

Matt Rankin and Jaden Weekes, now 1-3, lost their match 7-6 in a back-and-forth tiebreaker. 

However, No. 8 Joshua Lapadat and JJ Mercer earned the doubles point against No. 27 Freddy Blaydes and Niels Ratiu – their sixth win against a nationally ranked opponent. 

To start singles play, all Wildcats won their first sets, besides No. 124 Weekes, who went down 6-4 on court three. 

Ultimately, Weekes went down in straight sets, giving Georgia the only point it would earn during the entire match. 

The match began to get choppy, as multiple coaches from both teams on court one and court two yelled at officials, as well as each other, over several missed calls and bickering between players. 

After the chaos resided and the match was tied at one, No. 38 Baadi won his second set 6-3 on court one to give UK the lead again. 

Charlelie Cosnet earned another point for the Wildcats after a straight set victory, improving his singles record to 15-2. 

Loutit, along with Eli Stephenson, who returned from injury and participated in his first match since March 17 at Mississippi State, began play with hopes of No. 99 Lapadat clinching the match. 

The pace on court two, where Lapadat was playing, was slow enough for Stephenson and Loutit to both finish their first sets. 

Eventually, Lapadat clinched the match in the third set, holding his finger to his mouth, implying for his opponent to stay quiet after a vocal matchup between the two.

Kentucky players serve the ball during the No. 7 Kentucky vs. No. 18 Alabama men’s tennis match on Sunday, March 3, 2024, at the Boone Tennis Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 5-2. Photo by Cameron Guagenti | Staff (Cameron Guagenti)

Georgia’s No. 64 Ryan Colby shoved Lapadat’s arm when going to shake hands and had to be split up by coaches. 

Despite a 3-hour match and a choppy ending, head coach Cedric Kauffman glorified their performance. 

“I’m really proud of my seniors,” Kauffman said. “They’re trying to leave an amazing legacy here at Kentucky and I’m proud of them.” 

Kauffman also emphasized their mindset going forward, and how the team is preparing for the rival Tennesee Volunteers. 

“We’ll enjoy tonight, and tomorrow we’ll keep our routine going,” Kauffman said. “We know we can beat Tennessee and we know they can beat us. “I’ll talk to the guys after practice and prepare them to be lone SEC champions.”

Moving into Sunday, the Wildcats won a close match 4-3 over No. 6 Tennessee for senior day in front of the biggest crowd the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex has seen this season.

The doubles point came after Baadi and Loutit battled back to secure the first match, with the reunited Weekes and Stephenson clinching the point with a 7-6 (7-5) tiebreaker win. 

After Baadi and Lapadat fell at the center courts, the Wildcats had their work cut out for them. Stephenson also fell in his match in straight sets. 

Cosnet came from behind in his first set winning 7-6 (7-0) and finished his match in straight sets, with the 6-3 win in the second. 

Weekes was the next to secure a point for Kentucky in a three-set match with opponent Chris Li. Weekes kept his cool as Li found several things to complain about and stop the match to speak with the referee. 

“Don’t really worry about what he’s doing. Just focus on yourself,” Weekes said. “Obviously, it’s hard, but I got the crowd on my side. Once the call is made by the ref, it’s made. He can’t change that and I just go back to sticking to my routines.”

It was Loutit who clinched the regular season title for Kentucky in a hard-fought three-set match. After dropping the first 4-6, Loutit came out on top with 6-2, 6-4 wins in the remaining sets. 

“The crowd was incredible today for him,” associate head coach Matthew Gordon said. “To do that just shows so much about him and his growth as a player. He deserves it because he works so hard.”

Kentucky will look to defend its SEC tournament title from last year starting on Friday, April 19, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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