Kentucky mens tennis kicks off 2023 campaign after historic 2022 season


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats fifth-year senior Alafia Ayeni hits the ball during the No. 4 Kentucky vs. Dayton mens tennis season opener match on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, at the Boone Tennis Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 5-0. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Samantha Money, Asst. Sports Editor

After making school history last season, finishing as the runner-up to the NCAA Championship, Kentucky mens tennis now looks to rekindle the magic in the 2023 season.

Kentucky’s run last year was the furthest the Cats had ever gone in the tournament, receiving a plethora of recognitions for their efforts including four Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) regional awards with seven different players reaching an ITA ranking at some point during the season.

Although the sweeping loss to Virginia in the NCAA Men’s National Championship put an abrupt end to the Wildcats’ season, it did not take away from the successes the Cats returned home with.

Kicking off the 2023 season, Kentucky earned its highest ever preseason ITA ranking, standing at No. 4 in the nation under head coach Cedric Kauffmann, who is in his 11th year with the Wildcats.

The Cats kicked off the spring season on Jan. 18, sweeping a home double header against Dayton, but the new year also brought a lot of changes to the roster.

Kentucky returned 2021 ITA National Player of the Year Liam Draxl, who is likely to continue leading the Wildcats as the No. 1 singles position just as he has for the past three seasons.

In 2022 Draxl finished with a 16-7 singles record and finished the season at No. 6 in the ITA singles rankings.

Joshua Lapadat is another familiar face on the roster this season.

Lapadat also appeared in the final ITA singles rankings at the end of the season at No. 14 and now hopes to build off that success in his junior year.

Joining Draxl and Lapadat at the top of the roster for the Wildcats are transfers Alafia Ayeni from Cornell and Taha Baadi from Wake Forest.

Ayeni, a 6-foot-3 fifth-year from California, wrapped up last season at No. 48 in the ITA singles rankings, being named to the All-Ivy-League first-team in singles – finishing 19-6 – and doubles.

Baadi also adds more depth to the Wildcats’ roster, having an undefeated 5-0 doubles record last year and a 15-7 singles record, even finishing the regular season on a six-match win streak.

A pair of international freshman will also make an appearance in Lexington this season with Charlelie Cosnet from France and Jaden Weekes from Canada both set to start their collegiate careers with ATP rankings points already to their names.

While the new season brings much excitement to Kentucky, fans will no doubt miss former stars iMllien Hurrion, Gabriel Diallo and Francois Musitelli, all of whom helped lead the Cats on their historic postseason run.

Looking at where the former Wildcats are now, Diallo announced his decision to pursue professional tennis after the conclusion of the 2022 fall season.

Last year, Diallo was named to the ITA 2022 All-American Team for singles, finishing with a 38-8 record.

Former team captain Hurrion graduated from UK in May 2022 and has since returned home to the United Kingdom to pursue his professional career, while former international teammate Musitelli, from France, went down a similar path as he continues to play professionally across Europe.

Looking back to the current Wildcats’ squad, the stacked roster opened the season on Wednesday morning with the aforementioned sweep of Dayton at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

With final scores of 5-0 and 4-0, Kentucky achieved the doubles point in both matches and shut down the Flyers in singles as well, not allowing Dayton to walk away with a single point.

Draxl in particular shined in the second match against Dayton, finishing with a pair of 6-0 wins in the singles matchups.

The rest of the season includes high-profile matchups against No. 10 South Carolina on March 2, No. 7 Georgia on March 31, No. 6 Tennessee on April 2 and a revenge match against the reigning national champions No. 1 Virginia on Feb. 3.

While the team will have a lot of work to do to live up to the historic run of last season, the 2023 season couldn’t have had a better start for the Cats. Kentucky returns to play on Saturday, Jan. 21, when it hosts Illinois at 1 p.m. EST.