No. 7 Kentucky tops No. 23 Illinois
Wildcats extend their winning streak to eight games
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Behind seniors Eric Quigley and Alex Musialek each posting a singles win against a top-40 ranked player, seventh-ranked Kentucky moved its winning streak to eight matches with a dominating 6-1 victory against No. 23 Illinois on Thursday.
"Illinois is always a great match because they are so competitive and talented, so we are happy with this win," UK head coach Dennis Emery said. "They do not lose very easily because they are well coached and have so much tradition. This will definitely be one of our top wins by the end of the year."
The win concludes non-conference play for Kentucky (23-4, 10-0 Southeastern Conference). The Wildcats will completely wrap-up their regular-season schedule on Saturday when they play host to No. 43 Vanderbilt. With a win against Vanderbilt, Kentucky can clinch the SEC regular season title outright. UK has already earned at least a share of the title.
Kentucky's win on Thursday continues its strong showing against some of the best teams in the nation. So far this season, Kentucky is 9-3 this season against teams currently ranked in the top 25, including four wins against current top-10 teams. Since the start of the 2009 season, UK has won 30 matches against top-25 teams.
"I was as proud today of our team as I have been all season," Emery said. "These midweek matches are difficult because you have so much going on academically that sometimes you can lose focus. We didn't let that be an excuse today."
UK started the match against Illinois with a solid performance in doubles action, winning the doubles point for the sixth time in the last seven matches. After Kentucky's top duo of Eric Quigley and Panav Jha fell to No. 25 Dennis Nevolo and Roy Kalmanovich at court one, the Wildcats earned key victories at courts two and three to seal the first point of the match. Sophomores Alejandro Gomez and Tom Jomby evened the board in doubles at court three when they took down Bruno Abdelnour and Tim Kopinski 8-4. Moments later, Musialek and Anthony Rossi, who are ranked 55th in the nation in doubles, clinched the point with an impressive 8-3 victory against Stephen Hoh and Farris Gosea at court two. The Wildcats have been unbeatable this season when they claim the doubles point, sitting a 16-0 this season when they win doubles.
UK continued that momentum in singles, winning four of six first sets in singles action. Quigley, who is ranked third in the nation in singles, was the first to finish for Kentucky, earning a dominating straight-sets win against No. 5 Nevolo to give UK a 2-0 lead. Both players earned early breaks in the first set to tie the set 3-3 before Quigley won three consecutive games to take the first set. In the second set, Quigley broke Nevolo right out of the gate and would never look back, rolling to the 6-3, 6-2 victory.
"Eric Quigley played really one of his best matches of the year today," Emery said. "To beat a guy who is fifth in the country, really says a lot about how focused he was. Eric lost to Nevolo this fall and being the competitor he is, he really wanted to get this win today. I was really pleased to see how Eric came out early and took control of the match. He did a great job of staying aggressive out there and closing out the match."
The win is Quigley's seventh consecutive against a player that is currently ranked in the ITA singles rankings, including his third consecutive against a top-15 player. So far this spring, Quigley is an impressive 21-1, while his 2011-12 total record is a remarkable 44-6. Quigley has defeated 13 currently ranked singles players this spring, while seven of those wins came against guys in the top 20 in the nation.
Gomez, who is ranked 104th in the nation in singles, gave Kentucky a commanding 3-0 lead in the team match with a strong win at court five. Gomez earned key breaks early on in both the first and second sets to defeat Stephen Hoh 6-3, 6-2 and improve his dual-match record to 16-7. Gomez has now won four consecutive singles matches, including a victory against a top-60 ranked singles player.
After Illinois grabbed a win at court six from Gosea to cut the UK lead to 3-1, Kentucky would claim singles victories on the final three courts to close out the match. Rossi, who is ranked 22nd in the nation in singles, clinched the decisive fourth point with a solid performance against Abdelnour. Rossi led the first set 5-3 before Abdelnour fought back to tie the score 5-5. Rossi would then win two straight games to close out the first set 7-5, before dominating the second set 6-2 to clinch the team victory. Rossi is now 19-4 this season having won eight of his last nine matches.
"Anthony Rossi is one of the most solid points we have ever had here in this program," Emery said. "He is the complete package in terms of athleticism, competitive spirit and being a good teammate. He is the ultimate person on and off the court. He is awfully tough to beat when he doesn't make mistakes and these last couple of matches he has made up his mind that he is not making mistakes."
Fellow Frenchmen Jomby and Musialek completed the winning for Kentucky. Jomby gave UK a 5-1 lead in the match when he finished off a tight battle at court four against Kopinski. Jomby won the first set 6-2 before he and Kipinski went back and forth in the second set. After a series or breaks and holds from each player, the second set went into a tiebreaker. Jomby would jump on top early with a 4-1 lead and then hang on to grab the tiebreaker 7-2 and the match.
Musialek, who is ranked 15th in the nation in singles, would finish off the 6-1 win with his impressive come-from-behind performance at court two against No. 38 Kalmanovich. The UK senior dropped the first set 6-1 and was down 4-1 in the second set before finding his footing and making a memorable comeback. Musialek would earn several breaks in the second set to force a tiebreaker, which he would win 7-3 to force a 10-point supertiebreaker for the match. Musialek posted a 10-6 win in the supertiebreaker to claim the match and complete the comeback. The win for Musialek was his 13th of the spring as the senior has now won six of his last seven matches.
"Alex Musialek had a great comeback," Emery said. "He was down 6-1, 4-1 but hung in there and that shows a lot of heart and character, which is something that our whole team can pick up one. He got to a point in the match today where he was hitting the ball well and wasn't making any mistakes and that is a lethal combination. He is going to hurt you even when he does make some mistakes and then when he doesn't he is extremely tough to beat. He got some points out of his serve in the second set tiebreaker and that helped him a lot."
Illinois entered the match ranked 23rd in the nation as a team after falling five spots in the latest team rankings. The Illini are 12-5 this season and 6-1 in the Big Ten. Kentucky and Illinois have met annually since 2004 with Kentucky winning three of the last four matches. The two programs have played tight matches since the series started in 2004 with six of the 10 meetings ending in 4-3 decisions.
The win against Illinois continues UK's success at the Boone Tennis Center the past several seasons. UK has been nearly unbeatable at home, posting a 59-10 record since the start of the 2009 season. UK is 13-1 this season at home, including wins against some of the best teams in the nation.