No. 5 Kentucky mens tennis defeat No. 4 Georgia for SEC Championship title


Liam Draxl celebrates winning a set during the UK vs. Virginia tennis match on Thursday, March 31, 2022, at Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. UK lost 4-2. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Sara Gibson, Reporter

No. 5 Kentucky mens tennis took down No. 4 Georgia 4-3 in a tightly contested matchup to become the 2023 SEC Tournament champions.

The Wildcats took the courts at the Yarbrough Tennis Center in Auburn, Alabama, ready to get revenge on the Bulldogs who had defeated them 5-2 earlier this season.

In doubles play, Liam Draxl and Jaden Weekes were the first to drop their match, losing 6-3 on court three.

Also falling was Alafia Ayeni and Taha Baadi who lost to the No. 7 doubles pair of Ethan Quinn and Trent Bryde 6-4, giving Georgia the overall doubles point and the upper-hand going into singles.

Joshua Lapadat was quick to even the scoreboard in singles with straight set wins over Bryde 6-2, 6-4.

Yet, falling behind soon after was Charlelie Cosnet who dropped his match 6-4, 6-3 and Draxl who lost to Georgia stud No. 4 Quinn 7-5, 6-2.

Kentucky Wildcats junior Joshua Lapadat prepares to hit the ball during the No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 6 South Carolina mens tennis match on Thursday, March 2, 2023, at the Boone Tennis Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. South Carolina won 4-3. Photo by Samuel Colmar | Staff (Samuel Colmar)

With Georgia now just one win away from clinching the title, Kentucky needed to take all three courts to be crowned champions.

No. 25 Ayeni was the first to begin Kentucky’s comeback, dropping the first set 6-1, but battling back to win the last two 6-3, 6-3 over No. 15 Philip Henning for his ninth ranked win.

Now down 3-2, all eyes were on Baadi and Weekes, with the Bulldogs serving for the championship on each court.

Each Wildcat broke their opponents at 4-5 down when Georgia’s Blake Croyder was overruled, tying his match with Baadi.

The ruling gave Baadi a newfound confidence where he quickly ended the match in the final set, 7-6 (7-5), 2-6, 7-5.

As the match ended, Baadi sprinted across the complex to watch Weekes play Miguel Perez Pena, the Bulldogs’ winningest player, in a tiebreaker to decide the championship.

Perez Pena had Weekes on the ropes with two match points, however, the freshman would fight back with his teammates cheering him on to clinch on his first attempt, winning his match 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (9-7) and securing the championship title for Kentucky.

“It’s amazing to play with these guys, to play for these guys,” Weekes said to UK Athletics following the match.“To clinch the SEC title, I don’t even believe it.”

The win brought Kentucky its first SEC Championship since 1992 with Lapadat being named MVP, and Weekes named to the All Tournament Team.

Kentucky Wildcats fifth year Alafia Ayeni hits the ball during the No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 6 South Carolina mens tennis match on Thursday, March 2, 2023, at the Boone Tennis Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. South Carolina won 4-3. Photo by Samuel Colmar | Staff (Samuel Colmar)

Paving the way to Kentucky’s contest against Georgia, the Wildcats dominated the SEC beginning in the first round of the tournament.

The Wildcats would start it off with a 4-0 sweep over Alabama, starting with winning the doubles point while Ayeni, Weekes and Lapadat secured the singles victories needed to defeat the Crimson Tide.

“I thought we were a little tentative at first, but we opened up. We played pretty well by the end,” Head Coach Cedric Kauffmann said to UK Athletics after the match.

The win over the Crimson Tide sent Kentucky to the tournament semifinals against No. 9 Tennessee, who defeated the Wildcats 4-0 just a couple weeks prior.

With wins from the duos of Draxl and Weekes and Lapadat and Mercer, the Wildcats once again started off strong with the doubles point.

The match seemed to turn the Volunteers’ way after they took the next three points, defeating Wildcats Cosnet, Baadi and Weekes to put the Cats down two points.

Lapadat and Draxl successfully worked to bring Kentucky even with Tennessee on the scoreboard, followed by Ayeni clinching the last point to send the Wildcats to the championship match.

With a five-game win streak to accompany them, the Wildcats will now prepare for the NCAA Tournament scheduled for May 17-27 at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida.