A funny thing happened as Kentucky's Tom Jomby approached the net in all his 6-foot-6 glory. As he prepared to put away an overhead smash — maybe even plug a ball into the hardcourt surface at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center — he hopped into the air as if trying to introduce the jump shot to tennis. His shot sailed far outside the court.
"I was up 40-love," he said. "Tennis is a game, so I'm trying to have fun."
UK Coach Cedric Kauffmann apparently did not appreciate this carefree moment interrupting his team's 4-0 victory over Denver Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Lexington pod.
"Cedric got on me a little bit," said Jomby, a first-team All-Southeastern Conference player known for an effervescent demeanor. "But that's OK. I don't think I would have tried it if it was a really, really important point. I was just trying to have fun."
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After struggling to win the doubles point, Kentucky breezed in the singles. The Cats did not lose a set in singles, which might explain Jomby's playfulness.
"It's not easy when you win (the first set) 6-1 to stay focused in the second set," he said.
Kauffmann, whose team will play Clemson Saturday in the second round, wondered about mental sharpness. Kentucky had not played a match since April 19.
"You're a little bit nervous after two and a half weeks of not playing ... ," he said. "I don't think we played great in doubles. And I think it's going to help us to get this tight doubles, maybe, for tomorrow.
"We're going to have to play better (against Clemson), and we can play better."
Denver, which beat Florida at Florida in the same round of last year's NCAA Tournament, had lost the doubles point only three times all season. But Kentucky outlasted Denver in two of three doubles matches. Jomby and Kevin Lai won 8-6 while teammates Ryuji Hirooka and Nils Ellefsen won the decisive third doubles match 8-6.
Kauffmann suggested the doubles served to reorient Kentucky players to competition. "It was just an hour's tennis for us to get back with the nerves," he said.
Then Kentucky dominated in singles.
Jomby's 6-1, 6-2 victory over Henry Craig marked his 99th career victory. He can become the 16th UK player to hit the century mark.
"Usually, we don't tell players that," Kauffmann said of the potential milestone. "But because it's special and he plays better when it's special, we told him."
In putting 100 victories in perspective, the UK coach noted that even All-America status might pale in comparison.
"In our club, within I'll say our alumni body of tennis players, this is something special," Kauffmann said. "Sometimes more important than All-American. (Because of) just the consistency through four years."
Clemson Coach Chuck McCuen saluted his team's perseverance and poise. The Tigers' 4-1 victory over Purdue called for those qualities. It began outdoors before early-afternoon rain moved play inside.
"Our composure was stellar," McCuen said. "Even when we were down and momentum was starting to shift toward Purdue in some of our matches, our body language was very, very good."
McCuen noted that his 10-man team includes eight freshmen.
The victory over Purdue followed success in the classroom. The Tigers' team grade-point average was 3.3 in the spring semester.
"So I'm ecstatic," McCuen said. "I'm a proud dad."
Two veterans, junior Hunter Harrington and senior Dominique Maden, led Clemson on the court. They combined for a doubles victory, then each won in singles.
"I told them in the post-game team meeting that Hunter continues to be the rock and the foundation," the Clemson coach said. "And Dominique is just always the great person behind him who goes to work each day.
"Hunter is the rock, and Dom is our artist."
Harrington, who is 6-4, will play Jomby in the No. 1 singles match Saturday.