STANFORD, Calif. – Freshman Tom Jomby came from behind at No. 6 singles to give No. 10 Kentucky a 4-2 win against No. 7 Florida in the third round of the NCAA Championships on Thursday.
The win advances Kentucky (29-8) to the quarterfinals against two-time defending national champion Southern California, which took down Georgia Tech 4-0 on Thursday. UK and USC will square off at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday at the Taube Tennis Center’s main stadium. UK fell to USC last year in the round of 16 in Athens, Ga.
“This is one of the biggest wins for our program in a long time to beat a top-eight team like Florida,” UK head coach Dennis Emery said. “Florida is a great team and to do it at this venue at Stanford with a berth in the quarterfinals on the line is huge for this program.”
The quarterfinals appearance for UK is its fourth in school history and the first for the program since 2002. The Wildcats’ previous quarterfinals appearances came in 1988, 1992 and 2002. The win versus Florida was Kentucky’s second against a top-10 team this season and moved the Wildcats to within one win of the program’s first 30-win season in school history. UK has already surpassed the school record for wins in a single season, which was previously 25 by the 2010 squad.
The Gators came out firing in singles, taking first sets on four courts, but Kentucky would assume control.
Kentucky led throughout the entire match and was up 3-2 when Jomby sealed UK’s ticket to the quarterfinals. After Spencer Newman started the match by posting a dominating first-set 6-0 win, Jomby answered in the second set, grabbing two breaks to win 6-3 and even the match at a set apiece. In the third set, Jomby came out of the gates fast, going up two breaks at 3-0. After Newman took a medical timeout, the Florida freshman answered with three consecutive games to tie the set 3-3. Jomby then broke to go up 4-3 and held serve to take a 5-3 lead. Newman would hold to make it 5-4, but Jomby would serve out the set to win 6-4 and give UK the 4-2 win.
“When Jomby plays like that he is very difficult to beat,” Emery said. “He hits the ball hard and serves big. When he is not making mistakes and stays in the match emotionally, he is a tough out.
“The key to the match was that he held serve the first three times he served in the second set. He lost the first set and has kind of lost it emotionally in the second set at times. Today he showed great maturity to not do that. The guy that he played today at No. 6 had a great match with him at Florida the first time and I thought for him to be able to come back after losing the first set 6-0 was a big step forward for him as a player.”
For the second time this season, Jomby was the difference in a UK win against Florida. In Kentucky’s regular-season victory in Gainesville, Jomby earned the decisive point against the Gators at No. 6 singles to give UK its first regular-season win at Florida since 1988.
Kentucky’s other two singles points in Thursday’s win came from the middle of the rotation with No. 90 Alberto Gonzalez and Anthony Rossi earning straight-set victories. Gonzalez avenged an earlier loss this season to No. 118 Bob van Overbeek with a dominating 6-1, 6-2 win at No. 4 singles to put UK up 2-0. Kentucky is now 26-0 this season when it gets a win from the No. 4 singles position.
Florida got points at No. 1 and No. 3 singles to tie the match at 2-2 before Rossi grabbed a key win at No. 5 singles versus Billy Federhofer 6-2, 6-4 to give UK a lead it would not relinquish. After Jomby clinched the match, play at No. 2 singles between No. 89 Nassim Slilam and No. 53 Alex Musialek was abandoned at one set apiece.
“The core of our team is at No. 4 and No. 5 singles,” Emery said. “Rossi and Gonzalez played great today. They probably played as good today as they have played in one match in the past two years. They are obviously really good players, but this was the best that they played together in a while. When they got us to three team points it really put a lot of pressure on Florida to have to win four consecutive matches. I am pleased with our players that they understood the dynamics of the match.”
The match started with Kentucky winning the doubles point, moving UK to 17-3 this season when it claims the doubles point. Brad Cox and Eric Quigley, ranked 19th in the nation in doubles, continued their hot streak with an 8-5 win at No. 1 doubles against No. 17 Alexandre Lacroix and Sekou Bangoura. The UK duo has now won six of the last eight matches, all against highly ranked foes.
UK clinched the doubles point at No. 3 doubles when Gonzalez and Jomby took down Andrew Butz and van Overbeek.
“The key for the match again was winning the doubles point,” Emery said. “We lost the doubles point the first two times we played them and it was very tight matches both times. We liked our matchups in the doubles point, but what helped us what that our seniors did a great job in doubles and showed great leadership and level or play and intensity.”
The win moved Kentucky to 2-1 this season against the Gators and avenged a loss to Florida in the finals of the Southeastern Conference Championship last month in Gainesville.