No. 9 Tennessee ends No. 4 Kentucky's perfect season with 4-1 victory
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Entering the midway point of the SEC tennis season, ninth-ranked Tennessee collected their first top-10 victory of the year on the road on Thursday.
The top of the lineup led the way as the Vols toppled No. 4 Kentucky 4-1 at the Hillary J. Boone Tennis Center.
"It was a great team effort and they stayed together -- that's what I take away from this match more than anything else," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "It was really, really close through doubles and everyone played at a very high level. They competed for each other the best I've ever seen. It was very impressive as a coach to see that."
The Vols (16-6, 3-3 SEC) collected the doubles point, and with four courts at their indoor complex the Vols got the three singles points they needed from the top four positions. Jarryd Chaplin and Hunter Reese put the Vols up 3-1 with consecutive set wins on courts 4 and 2, and sophomore Mikelis Libietis closed the door with a 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 win against No. 31 Anthony Rossi.
Kentucky entered the match 8-0 at home this season, but the Vols came out strong once again at the top of the doubles order.
Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese improved to 5-0 in SEC play with an 8-5 victory against No. 23 Tom Jomby and Kevin Lai at the top of the lineup. In their first weekend at the No. 2 position, Brandon Fickey and Jarryd Chaplin broke late to beat Alejandro Gomez and Ryuji Hirooka 9-7 to clinch the point for the Vols.
On the first four singles courts, Tennessee and Kentucky each won two first sets.
Chaplin was off the court for the Vols in a hurry. He beat Charles Minc 6-2, 6-1 on No. 4 to put Tennessee ahead 2-0.
Kentucky narrowed the lead briefly to 2-1 when Fickey lost in consecutive sets on No. 3, but by that time, Tennessee had begun building momentum on Nos. 1 and 2.
Reese pulled out a key first-set tiebreaker on No. 2 against the Tom Jomby 7-6 (2). From there, he got a break in the second set to secure a 7-6 (2), 6-3 victory to improve to 4-2 this SEC season.
"Hunter was focused from start to finish," Winterbotham said. "The last point was as good as the first point. Jomby was playing well, but I don't think Hunter took one point off the whole day. It was outstanding."
Kentucky's indoor courts are a traditionally difficult place to play, particularly on No. 1, where the stands are lineup up along court side. Libietis found himself trailing on that court 7-6, 3-1 to crowd favorite Rossi when he turned a decisive corner in his match.
Libietis reeled off five games in a row to win the second set and down Rossi 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3.
In the remaining matches, Edward Jones lost the first set 6-4 on No. 5 and Taylor Patrick was still in the first set at 4-5.
"It was a challenge when you have your five and six have to wait, especially when you aren't at home," Winterbotham said. "I thought Ed and Taylor did a great job of staying focus. It's tough to play on those indoor courts against a great Kentucky team. We took a very good first step."