Kentucky slips up in Tuscaloosa 4-3, dips below .500 in SEC play


César Bourgois and Gabriel Diallo listen to their coach during the University of Kentucky vs. Louisiana State men’s tennis meet on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 4-0. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

After falling to No. 10 Texas A&M in College Station last time out, the No. 15 UK men’s tennis team looked to rebound in game two of its three-match road trip Friday, facing off with the 8-4 (0-2 SEC) Alabama Crimson Tide. 

The Wildcat outing in Tuscaloosa represented only their third true away match of the season, with a neutral meeting versus USC serving as the first foray outside of the Bluegrass. The Tide came into Friday’s match on a two-game skid, dropping each of their first two conference matches, Florida and South Carolina, on the road.  

UK struck first in doubles play on court two as Millen Hurrion and Yasha Zemel kept their undefeated record as a pair alive with a 6-3 defeat of Gabriel Diaz Freire and Zhe Zhou.  

‘Bama took court three’s battle to respond. Alexey Nesterov and Edson Ortiz downed Joshua Lapadat and Liam Draxl, who were playing together for just the second time in 2021, 6-4. The fate of the doubles point fell squarely on the shoulders of those on court one.

It took a tiebreaker to decide who would take the early lead. The Tide’s Patrick Kaukovalta and Riccardo Roberto ultimately prevailed over Cesar Bourgois and Gabriel Diallo 7-6 (7-4), awarding their team the all-important doubles point. The Cats trailed following doubles for only the third time. 

Hurrion didn’t take long to even the score, besting Kaukovalta 6-1, 6-1. The senior from Weymouth, England now boasts an impressive 7-2 singles record this season. 

Alabama answered behind Roberto on court five, as he took down No. 123 Joshua Lapadat 6-1, 6-3. The freshman, who now sits at 2-6, has not been able to shake his funk through the beginning of conference play.  

The Crimson Tide then made it 3-1 on court two, where Ortiz handled Diallo 6-4, 6-3. It was the sophomore’s second-straight loss, and had Kentucky on the brink of suffering its third defeat.

Old reliable Liam Draxl fired back on court one, knocking off Zhou 6-2, 7-5 in his first match since his loss to Texas A&M’s Valentin Vacherot, the current No. 4 singles player in the ITA rankings. Draxl’s record is now a spectacular 11-1 in singles. 

Bourgois then cracked double digits in the win column with a 7-6 (7-2), 6-3 victory over Diaz Friere. This knotted the scales at 3-3, and brought the fate of the match onto UK’s Yasha Zemel and Alabama’s Nesteroy, a graduate student out of Moscow.

The two were heading in opposite directions coming in: Nesterov had won four of his last five matches, while Zemel was coming off his second loss of the season. Zemel answered the bell in set one though. claimed it via tiebreaker. But he was unable to hold off the Russian native, who easily took sets two and three to come out a 6-7 (4-7,) 6-1, 6-1 winner and giving Alabama the upset.

UK falls to 11-3 (1-2 SEC) with the loss, but can’t afford to lick its wounds. They return to battle on Sunday just a short drive away against Auburn, who caps the three-game travel stint. The Cats and Tigers will meet at the Yarbrough Tennis Center, and are slated to start at 1:00 p.m. E.T.