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PREVIEW: Kentucky men’s tennis begins path to National Championship in Lexington

Samuel Colmar
Kentucky Wildcats junior Joshua Lapadat prepares to hit the ball during the No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 6 South Carolina mens tennis match on Thursday, March 2, 2023, at the Boone Tennis Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. South Carolina won 4-3. Photo by Samuel Colmar | Staff

McClelland: Why Kentucky?

In the 2024 Division-I Men’s Tennis Championship, 64 teams will compete to win a national title.

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 (Sydney Yonker)

When it comes to national tournaments, upsets, crazy moments and unexpected hot streaks are common.

However, what if the Kentucky Wildcats stand in the way of one of these Cinderella teams? Kentucky isn’t looking for an unexpected hot streak, it’s just expecting to stay red hot.

No. 5 Kentucky was selected as a host site for rounds one and two of the tournament and are looking to make the trip to Stillwater, Oklahoma, for a deep run.

The Wildcats are coming off of a SEC Championship win and have won 17 matches in a row.

It’s fair to say, with a 24-2 overall record, that the Cats don’t lose very often. 

Kentucky will host its first two matches in Lexington, where it has lost only once at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex, dating back to Saturday, Jan. 27.

The Cats have played 15 opponents ranked in the top 60 in a row, not only cementing how impressive it was that they didn’t lose one match during this stint, but that they play in one of the most competitive conferences in Division-I tennis.

They are nearly at the top of the mountain of success, scaling toward Stillwater in hopes of bringing the University of Kentucky a national title.

As Kentucky prepares for its first match of the tournament, here are the anticipated threats to the Wildcats.

Gibson: The Bigger Picture

Illinois poses the biggest threat in Kentucky’s quarter as the team once sat comfortably in ITA top 25, but missing key player Karlis Ozolins has significantly hindered the team. 

Kentucky should, in theory, be a lock for its quarter of the bracket, but don’t be surprised if it isn’t playing No. 12 Harvard in the Super Regionals.

Kentucky fifth year Taha Baadi celebrates 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 (Sydney Yonker)

Harvard has a deep roster overall, having seen five singles players see action on all six courts this season, but Denver is also in Harvard’s quarter and is undefeated, sitting at 23-0 with anchors on courts one and two for singles play.

If the Wildcats make it to the quarterfinals, they’re most likely to see No. 13 Duke, No. 4 TCU or unranked Alabama.

Kentucky’s only losses on the season came on the road at Duke and at home to Alabama. The Wildcat’s managed to get revenge over the Tide during regular season conference play, so the question stands: will it get the chance to do the same to Duke?

TCU and Kentucky have some recent history as well, with the Horned Frogs knocking the Wildcats out of ITA National Indoors in 2022 and 2023. Led by No. 7 singles player Jake Fearnly, the Horned Frogs are 22-4 this season but have struggled with the nation’s top talents with losses to Texas and Ohio State.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, to make it to the national championship they might have to go through the No. 1 team in the nation: Ohio State.

Unless the top teams in the Buckeyes region, No. 8 Columbia or No. 9 Arizona, take down Ohio State, fans are likely to see Kentucky face the top team in the nation with a near perfect record (30-1) if the Wildcats are going to make a championship push.  

The road to the National Championship and Stillwater will begin on Friday, May 3, where Kentucky will take on DePaul at 4 p.m. ET. Kentucky will play at 4 p.m. again on Saturday if it wins versus the winner of Toledo and Illinois.

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Samuel Colmar, Assistant Photo Editor

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