The University of Kentucky men's tennis team got off to a fast start, but Duke was able to rally and win a back-and-forth battle in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 at Champaign, Ill., on Thursday night.
The No. 9 overall seed Blue Devils escaped with a 4-2 victory over No. 8 Kentucky.
“Going into the match, we said if everyone takes care of what they need to do, full effort, and execute their game plan, we’ll have a chance,” said Duke assistant coach Jonathan Stokke. “That’s all we asked for was a chance. We gave ourselves that chance, and we won the pressure points."
Cedric Kauffmann's first season as UK head coach ended 22-12 with the team's fourth consecutive trip to the Sweet 16.
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Kentucky looked good early, winning the doubles point after a 90-minute battle with the Blue Devils.
UK freshman Beck Pennington and junior Ryuji Hirooka beat Duke's No. 2 tandem of Michael Redlicki and Jason Tahir, 8-0, in 28 minutes to get things started. The Blue Devils responded with Henrique Cunha and Raphael Hemmeler knocking off Kentucky's No. 1 team of Tom Jomby and Kevin Lai, 8-4. Senior Anthony Rossi and freshman Juan Pablo Murra secured the doubles point for Kentucky with a 9-7 win over Fred Saba and Bruno Semenzato.
Entering Thursday's match, the Wildcats were 15-2 this season when winning the doubles points.
But in singles play Duke took control early, winning five of the first six sets to steal the momentum.
The Blue Devils evened things when Duke's Tahir beat Pennington 6-3, 6-2 at No. 6 singles.
Kentucky regained the lead when first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection Tom Jomby beat Fred Saba 6-4, 6-2 in the No. 2 match.
Duke's Chris Mengel knocked off Kentucky's Lai 6-2, 7-5 at No. 4 singles to square the match 2-2.
Fittingly, the No. 1 singles match proved to be the tipping point.
Cunha, the 2013 ACC Player of the Year, edged Kentucky's Anthony Rossi 7-5, 6-4.
Kentucky had a chance to even things at No. 5 singles, but Duke's Raphael Hemmeler held off the Wildcats' Grant Roberts 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 to give Duke (25-5) the victory.
The Blue Devils advance to an NCAA quarterfinals appearance against top-seeded UCLA on Saturday.
Wildcats Rossi and Jomby will play in next week's NCAA singles championships. Jomby and Lai will take part in the doubles competition.
1. Henrique Cunha (Duke) def. Anthony Rossi 7-5, 6-4
2. Tom Jomby (UK) def. Fred Saba 6-4, 6-2
3. Charles Minc (UK) vs. Michael Redlicki 3-6, 6-3, 4-2 (match abandoned)
4. Chris Mengel (Duke) def. Kevin Lai 6-2, 7-5
5. Raphael Hemmeler (Duke) def. Grant Roberts 6-3, 5-7, 6-2
6. Jason Tahir (Duke) def. Beck Pennington 6-3, 6-2
1. Cunha/Hemmeler (Duke) def. Jomby/Lai 8-4
2. Hirooka/Pennington (UK) def. Tahir/Redlicki 8-0
3. Rossi/Murra (UK) def. Saba/Semenzato 9-7
Order of Finish: Doubles (2,1,3); Singles (6,2,4,1,5)