No. 19 Cats hang on for 4-3 victory against Duke; undefeated matchup set vs. USC


Kentucky men’s tennis assistant coach Matthew Gordon knuckle bumps Wildcat Joshua Lapadat in the match vs. Duke.IMAGE OBTAINED FROM UK ATHLETICS. PHOTO BY GRANT LEE, UK ATHLETICS. CREDIT: GRACE BRADLEY, UK ATHLETICS

Hunter Shelton

The No. 19 UK men’s tennis team claimed its third Power Five victory of the season on Sunday, outlasting the Duke Blue Devils inside the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex.  

The Cats came into the match yet to concede a doubles point, and Sunday wouldn’t prove to be different. 

Gabriel Diallo and Cesar Bourgois continued to roll, getting their second win against a ranked duo this season. They bested No. 55 Sean Sculley and Garrett Johns 6-1, and moved to 7-0 as a pair on the year. 

Duke would answer on court three, as Luca Keist and Faris Khan defeated first-time duo Ying-Ze Chen and Yasha Zemel 6-1. This set up a winner-take-point match in the third contest.

Thanks to Liam Draxl and Alexandre Leblanc, Kentucky didn’t let a new trend take hold. The Canadian pair secured the 1-0 lead by beating Edu Guell and Andrew Zhang 6-4. 

Singles action got off to a familiar start for Big Blue. Diallo remained perfect when playing on court two after taking down Guell 6-2, 7-5, improving his overall singles record to 5-1 and doubling Kentucky’s margin. 

No. 45 Draxl was next to score for the Cats, winning his match versus Johns 7-6 (7-0,) 6-2. Draxl is now 8-0 in singles, with all eight appearances coming on court one. 

Just like that Kentucky, was one point away from victory. But Duke wasn’t going down without a fight, and came close to avoiding the jaws of defeat.

The Blue Devils got on the board thanks to Zhang, who prevailed in a three-set contest against Bourgois 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. It was the Wildcat captain’s first loss of 2021 in singles play.  

Duke then made it 3-2 on the back of an absolute battle. Sculley knocked off No. 123 Joshua Lapadat 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) in the Blue Devils’ second straight three-set match win. A quick two-point swing made the match anyone’s to win.  

A rising singles star, Zemel ultimately put an end to the Duke comeback bid. The freshman out of Haifa, Israel improved to 4-0 in singles play with dominant 6-3, 6-4 outing over Andrew Dale to secure the win for the Wildcats. 

The two teams played out the final matchup, where Khan defeat No. 114 Leblanc in a three-set clash 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Overall, it goes in the books as a 4-3 UK victory.  

The win improves Kentucky’s record to 8-0, and sets up an immense showdown in the middle of this week.

After a schedule change occurred, the Cats will now take on the nation’s top team on Wednesday afternoon. The No. 1 USC Trojans and Kentucky will go to war at a neutral site: the Dodds Center at the University of Illinois.

Both squads are unbeaten on the year, so someone will be leaving the Fighting Illini campus saddled with their first loss.

The match is set to begin at 1:00 p.m. E.T. Buckle up.