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PREVIEW: No. 5 Kentucky men’s tennis predictions for SEC Tournament

Sydney Yonker
The Kentucky mens tennis team huddles up during the Kentucky vs Notre Dame mens tennis match on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024, at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 4-0. Photo by Sydney Yonker | Staff

After No. 5 Kentucky men’s tennis won the regular season SEC title on Sunday, the team is now geared up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for the SEC tournament. 

The Wildcats are looking for their second consecutive SEC tournament championship and continue their unbeaten record in conference play. 

As Kentucky prepares for its first match, here are the tennis beat’s SEC tournament predictions. 

GIBSON – Kentucky wins on paper.

After going undefeated (12-0) in conference play and winning the SEC regular season championship with a win over No. 6 Tennessee on April 14, the Wildcats will be turning their focus to the SEC tournament. 

The first match of the tournament will be played Wednesday, April 17, but Kentucky will not see action until Friday, thanks to its No.1 seed. In that match, the Wildcats will take on either No. 8 Georgia or No. 9 Arkansas. 

The Wildcats may be hoping to take on Georgia as Arkansas played them close in the regular season, but Kentucky prevailed in a back and forth 4-3 match. 

Kentucky has been dominant from start to finish all season long, winning more than half its matches by two or more points. 

After Kentucky handles business in its first match, it’s likely the Wildcats continue their dominant path all the way to the SEC championship, where all signs point to a rematch with No. 2 Tennessee or potentially No. 6 Alabama who handed them their first loss of the season. 

Kentucky has shown the ability to win in several ways this season, with and without the doubles point, wins over top singles players or even dropping both matches at center courts. 

For Kentucky, it simply does not matter if and when it is trailing, the team always finds a way to pull out the win.

It’s easy to think the distraction of winning the regular season with a quick turn around could stop the Cats from a deep run, but one thing about a Cedric Kauffmann coached team is the emphasis on the details. 

“We got a lot of guys that are always ready to play,” senior JJ Mercer said. “We work together really hard in practice so everyone is ready to go, whoever it may be.”

Kentucky players celebrate 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)

Because of the consistent results the Cats have shown on the court all year, expect Kentucky to continue its resilient singles play and take home the SEC tournament trophy for the second consecutive year. 

MCCLELLAND – Stats aren’t everything. 

Despite their impressive season thus far, Kentucky will face new challenges ahead of its shot at winning back-to-back SEC Championships. 

Earning the No. 1 seed in the tournament automatically gives the Wildcats a first-round bye, meaning they’ll have to scout their potential opponents the day before on Thursday, April 18. 

With such a young team, featuring three freshmen and three sophomores, some pre-game nerves may affect the young Cats.

No. 8 Georgia, who played their first round matchup No. 9 Arkansas earlier in the season and swept them 4-0, will be the likely opponent for Kentucky. 

The Cats will know their opponent, and look on to face the Bulldogs in their first match.. 

However, the skill of this Kentucky team is unmatched, and having already beaten Georgia 4-1 this season, their first matchup of the tournament shouldn’t be any issue. 

Despite what should be a match, the Wildcats will face their next opponent less than a day later at 3 p.m. EST. 

We saw earlier in the season during the ITA opening weekend that Kentucky doesn’t perform well in matches on back-to-back days. 

After beating Notre Dame 4-0 on Jan. 26, the Wildcats lost to Alabama 2-4 on Jan. 27, in Lexington. 

Yet again, with this match being a little closer, Kentucky will prevail and fight for another day. 

The championship match will be set, which I predict will be with the No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers.

Tennessee, with three hours of extra time the previous day, will look to get revenge on Kentucky for their recent loss at the Boone Complex, and they’ll do exactly that. 

The teams’ only matchup of the season came this past weekend, where the Wildcats scraped by 4-3 when Tennessee had to endure crazy fans on an away court.

Kentucky barely won the doubles point, with all three courts going to tiebreakers and its singles play will not hold on the top two courts, just like their regular season matchup. 

I predict the Volunteers will hoist the SEC Championship, leaving a turning knot for all Kentucky fans ahead of the NCAA Tournament. 

BRYDGES- Is anyone coming close? 

Kentucky’s singles play has been key to winning so many games during these recent victories. 

In the game against Tennessee, the Wildcats performed admirably. Among the noteworthy performances were Charlelie Cosnet, Jaden Weeks and Jack Loutit in singles play.

In the doubles session, with a victory over Tennessee’s No. 58 Mitsui and Pieczonka, Taha Baadi and Loutit helped the Cats secure the doubles point.

If the Wildcats continue to dominate at the start of the match, they will be tough to beat in the tournament. 

In the face of fierce opposition, the Wildcats responded against the Vols. Cosnet prevailed and Weekes carried out an incredible comeback.

A close game between two freshmen determined the SEC regular season champion. In the end, Pieczonka, a Polish Volunteer, fell to Loutit to give Kentucky the championship.

That victory marked Kentucky’s third regular season SEC title in UK program history.

Kentucky’s impressive season-long play indicates that they’ll be an uphill battle in the competition.

The Wildcats will tackle the SEC Tournament beginning on Friday, April 19, at 6 p.m. EST in Baton Rouge.

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