Ex-Cats

Former UK star Witten, current Cat Wallart advance in tennis qualifier

Former UK tennis player Jesse Witten played Erik Crepaldi of Italy in the 2014 Kentucky Bank Championships at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex in Lexington. Witten won a first-round match in the 2016 qualifying tournament on Saturday.
Former UK tennis player Jesse Witten played Erik Crepaldi of Italy in the 2014 Kentucky Bank Championships at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex in Lexington. Witten won a first-round match in the 2016 qualifying tournament on Saturday. Herald-Leader

Jesse Witten still has it.

A five-time All-American during his days at the University of Kentucky more than 10 years ago, Witten advanced to the second round of the Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships men’s qualifying draw on Saturday.

The 33-year-old Witten dispatched 23-year-old Tim Kopinski, a recent Illinois graduate, 7-6 (0), 6-1 on a 90-degree day at the Hilary J. Boone Varsity Tennis Center. Witten and current UK sophomore Enzo Wallart are among 16 players remaining in the qualifying draw. Four will receive wild-card spots into the main draw, which starts on Monday.

“I’m definitely on the older side, but just getting out and playing in Lexington is special,” Witten said. “Just trying to battle through, playing these younger guys. They’re hungry. I always feel fortunate to win these days.”

Witten played in the qualifying round of this tournament last year, losing to eventual runner-up Yasutaka Uchiyama of Japan. His next opponent is No. 8-seeded Frederik Nielsen of Denmark.

“He’s a good player,” Witten said of the 32-year-old Nielsen, who defeated Witten when they were in their prime eight years ago.

When he’s not competing in tournaments, Witten is coaching college-level players at the Tough Tennis Academy in his hometown of Naples, Fla. It’s the same tennis academy he attended when he was 15, and he’s working with the same coaches who taught him the game.

“So it kind of came full-circle,” Witten said. “It’s a pretty elite group.”

UK’s Wallart defeated Dean O’Brien 7-6 (6), 3-2 (retired) in another first-round qualifying match on Saturday. Wallart will play South Africa’s Ruan Roelofse on Sunday.

▪ Adrian Mannarino of France earned the top seed for the men’s main draw on Saturday. Mannarino, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 55 in the world, is 18-15 this season, including a second-round Wimbledon loss to world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. The $50,000 main draw at UK starts Monday. Tickets can be purchased at LexingtonChallenger.com.

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