UK tennis in top 10, but still underdogs


Alberto Gonzalez plays a doubles match against Wake Forest at Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010. Photo by Scott Hannigan

By Ethan Levine

Last fall, Alabama and Florida led the way for the Southeastern Conference, holding the top two spots in the coaches’ poll almost the entire season. But the SEC’s depth doesn’t stop there. Louisiana State and UK are all ranked in the top 10, and they’ll all face off this weekend in Lexington for the conference tournament.

“There is some great competition,” UK head coach Dennis Emery said. “The SEC is the top conference in the country every year. The great thing is with the non-conference schedule we played, we saw eight top-10 teams this season, so we know what it looks like.”

UK, despite being ranked No. 8 in the nation with a 23-7 record earned the fourth seed in the SEC Tournament. On Friday, the Cats will face the winner of the Ole Miss-South Carolina opening round matchup.

If UK advances past the quarterfinals, it will likely face the top-seeded Tennessee Volunteers, who finished the regular season 23-1, including a perfect 11-0 record in conference play. But UK is focusing on its first opponent.

“We will have no problems with preparing for Ole Miss,” Emery said. “We beat them earlier this season for the first time since 2002. Ole Miss is one of the elite programs in the country and the players realize it. Unless we act like complete idiots, we should have no problems focusing on them.”

The second-seeded Florida Gators (17-3, 9-1 SEC) and the third-seeded Georgia Bulldogs (17-6, 9-2 SEC) also pose big tests for the Cats. This season, UK was a perfect 8-0 in conference against teams behind it in the conference standings. But against the top three teams in the conference, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia, the Cats could not manage a single win.

“We were five-all, love-30 against Florida and had four match points against Georgia,” Emery said. “So we were two points away from being 10-1 in the conference. We are trying to continue to get better. The way we beat those teams this time is to be a little better at the end of matches.”

But the SEC Tournament gives the Cats a chance at redemption, and a chance to gain some revenge after those close matches earlier in the year.

“Our guys really like each other, and really like playing together,” Emery said. “The camaraderie our guys have means a lot at the end of the year.”