Men’s Tennis drops first match in fierce battle with No. 1 USC

Hunter Shelton

The No. 19 UK men’s tennis team hit the road for the first time on Wednesday, facing their biggest challenge of the season. Their undefeated record was on the line as they matched up against the No. 1 USC Trojans inside the Dodds Tennis Center in Champaign, Illinois.  

USC also boasted a perfect record coming into the competition, sitting at 6-0. The Trojans came equipped with the No. 1 doubles duo in Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith, as well as three top-30 nationally ranked singles players, including Cukierman, who slots at No.1 in the nation.  

Neither team had dropped a doubles point this season, so someone was going to fall behind for the first time in 2021.  

The Trojans pushed ahead as No. 1 Cukierman and Smith made quick work of UK’s top duo, Gabriel Diallo and Cesar Bourgois, 6-1 on court one. It was the first doubles loss of the year for the Kentucky tandem. 

The Wildcats answered on court three thanks to Liam Draxl and Alexandre Leblanc. The Canadian pair took down USC’s Bradley Frye and Colter Smith 6-3, leaving the doubles point to court two’s result.  

Newly formed team Millen Hurrion and Yasha Zemel got the job done for Kentucky defeating the Trojans’ Mor Bulis and Ryder Jackson in a 6-4 battle. The win allowed the Cats to strike first blood and head into singles action up 1-0.  

The highlighted one-on-one match of the day was between No. 45 Draxl and No. 1 Cukierman on court one. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t the first to finish. 

USC would respond to the doubles point fast, as Jake Sands ended Zemel’s impressive four match winning streak 6-2, 6-3.  

The Trojans would then jump in front thanks to No. 26 Bulis. He handed Hurrion his second singles loss of the year, defeating him 6-3, 7-5. 

Then came the finish to court one, where Draxl knocked off his second top-six foe of the year by reigning victorious against No. 1 Cukierman. The sophomore out of Newmarket, Ontario finished 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 over the nation’s top player to tie things up.

Squared at two, the final three singles matches would decide if the Cats would prevail over the No. 1 team in the country. 

No. 123 Joshua Lapadat fell on court four to undefeated Lodewijk Weststrate in three sets, 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 to put the Cats on the brink. But Bourgois, their captain, wouldn’t let them go away easy, winning a 2-6, 7-6 (8-6), 7-5 slugfest against Frye to improve to 6-1 in singles action and put everything on the line in the final face-off.  

Gabriel Diallo had an early lead against Smith, but ultimately couldn’t complete the Wildcat upset. The nation’s No. 19 singles player rallied to defeat Diallo 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, ending an exciting day of action.  

USC prevailed and dealt Kentucky its first loss of the season, but the Cats can keep their heads high knowing they pushed the No. 1 Trojans to the absolute edge. 

Now at 9-1, UK returns to action this weekend versus another unbeaten foe. This one is much more personal though, as they’ll be taking on their state brethren Louisville. The match is set for Sunday at 3:00 p.m. E.T. in the Cardinals’ Bass-Rudd Tennis Center.