Witten among greatest collegiate men’s tennis players ever

By Lindsay Travis | Sports Writer

[email protected]

Eight years after his final collegiate match, Jesse Witten will be inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame as, statistically, the most dominant player in UK men’s tennis program history.

“From the minute he walked on campus we knew he was going to be really good,” former UK head coach Dennis Emery said.  “We didn’t realize he was going to be one of the best players in NCAA history.”

Witten was 2002 SEC Freshman of the Year, 2005 SEC Player of the Year, and qualified for two Grand Slam tournaments while at UK, the only Wildcat to do so, according to UK Athletics.

“I didn’t think I was any better than anybody on the team or thought I was better than anyone in the country,” Witten said.  “I just played and did my part, showed up at practice just like everybody else and let everything fall where it fell.”

Witten was also the only four-time men’s singles All-American in NCAA history.

“There’s only been four players in NCAA history that went to the finals of the NCAAs as a freshman,” Emery said. “One of those was John McEnroe, and another one was Jesse.”

He was an All-American five times in his career at UK, four individually and one as a doubles player, according to UK Athletics.

Witten is the 13th winningest player in NCAA history, according to Emery.

However, with all of his accomplishments as an individual, Witten’s favorite memory is one he shares with his teammates.

“My freshman year our team made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA’s and I didn’t know much about it, but I remember the team aspect of it — going that far,” Witten said.  “It had been a while since the team had done that. That’s kind of the moment that sticks out the most to me.”

Witten now plays tennis professionally. The highlight of his professional career, according to Emery, was when Witten reached the third round of the U.S. Open in 2009 against Novak Djokovic, who would later go on to be No. 1 in the world.

Witten would lose 6-7(2), 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-4 in four “really close sets,” Emery said.

“A kind of neat thing that came out of that was that after he lost he came into the interview room and he threw on his Kentucky tennis T-shirt and did his interviews in it,” said Emery.

Witten “loved playing at UK,” according to his former coach.

“I try to help recruit some kids, like Eric Quigley, when I can,” Witten said. “I tell them my experiences. I mean once you’re on the campus at UK and you meet the coaches and you see the facilities though, it’s pretty hard to say no.”

Witten is only the second men’s tennis player to be inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame. The first was current head coach Cedric Kauffmann.

“I look at the history and it’s a great honor,” Witten said. “It’s a pretty awesome thing to be up there with the other great names who’ve done some great things in their sports and for the school.”

Witten will not be able to attend the ceremony, but his family and Emery will accept the honor on his behalf.

“It’s a real honor and a real thrill for me because he’s one of my favorite players I’ve ever coached as well as one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” Emery said.