No. 14 Kentucky locks up double-bye in SEC tournament with win vs. Vandy
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky used four singles wins from No. 90 Beck Pennington, freshman Jerry Lopez and Nils Ellefsen and the clinching match from senior Grant Roberts to gather a 4-2 win against No. 26 Vanderbilt on Sunday afternoon at the Hilary J. Boone Varsity Tennis Centern.
With the win, the Wildcats now sit 8-2 in Southeastern Conference play in third place, one game behind both Texas A&M and Georgia in the standings. With its 8-2 conference record, Kentucky clinched a double-bye in the SEC tournament, and will begin play in Nashville on Friday afternoon the week of the tournament.
"It was really important for us to pick up the double-bye in the SEC tournament with the win today," UK head coach Cedric Kauffmann said. "It's really hard to win the SEC tournament championship by playing four days in a row, so that extra day of rest will really help our guys."
The doubles point was one of the tightest of the season, as the Wildcats fell just a few points shy on both courts Nos. 1 and 3, as Vanderbilt took the early 1-0 lead in the match.
The No. 2 doubles court of Pennington and senior Alejandro Gomez continues to be a great asset to Kentucky, as the Wildcat pair rolled over Rhys Johnson and Anton Kovrigin 8-3 in the first match that finished. Gomez and Pennington broke right out of the gate, and led the match 3-0 before breaking again at 6-3 to serve out the 8-3 win and take the win.
On court No. 1, fresh off a win versus the No. 3 doubles team in the country on Wednesday afternoon, the Wildcat tandem of No. 31 Tom Jomby and Kevin Lai were looking to beat their fourth top-five opponent this season, as they were facing No. 4 AJ Austin and Ryan Lipman. After both sides had break points and chances to take a lead in the match, neither side broke in any of the 14 games, and the match was decided by a tiebreak. Vandy got ahead a mini break off the bat and won all seven points of the tiebreak to win 7-0.
On court No. 2, Kentucky's Ryuji Hirooka and Nils Ellefsen were the last to finish, and made it very entertaining on the final court that would decide the doubles point. Hirooka and Ellefsen were serving at 6-5, already up a break, when Vanderbilt's Ryan Smith and Suresh Eswaran broke for 6-6 and eventually wound up forcing a tiebreak. Kentucky was down 0-4 and 1-5 in the tiebreak and then won four consecutive points to push it to 5-5 where the madness began. After Kentucky had two match points and Vandy had six match points during the tiebreak, Kentucky evened the breaker at 15-15, with a forehand winner from Hirooka, and Ellefsen with one more serve remaining. Ellefsen then double faulted, and Vandy won the tiebreak on the next point, as the Commodores took the lead, 1-0 on a 17-15 tiebreak on the third court.
No. 90 Beck Pennington quickly put a point on the board for UK in singles, as he delivered a 6-4, 6-3 straight-sets win on court No. 3 to square the match at 1-1. Pennington has been virtually untouchable in singles play this season, notching wins in nine of his 10 SEC matches this season. Pennington broke at four-all of the first set, and then two times in the final frame to collect the win.
Kentucky would take its first lead of the afternoon as freshman Nils Ellefsen gathered his first SEC win against Anton Kovrigin on court No. 6. Ellefsen broke at 5-4 in the first set to take the opening frame 6-4, and then put his foot on the gas petal in the second set. Ellefsen broke to begin the set, and jumped out to a 5-0 lead. After a quick hold from Kovrigin, Ellefsen served out the 6-1 second set, and put the Wildcats ahead 2-1.
After a win on court No. 1 by Vandy to tie the match 2-2, Kentucky would grasp the lead for good when Jerry Lopez recorded a straight-set win on court No. 4 to give UK the 3-2 lead. Lopez found himself down a break at 4-5 in the opening set and needing to break to stay alive in the set. Lopez battled off numerous game points from Vandy's Rhys Johnson before picking up the break to square the set at 5-5. After two holds, they entered a tiebreak for the opening frame. Lopez got ahead 4-1 and never looked back, collecting a 7-4 tiebreak win. In the second set, he took an early 4-1 lead and added in another insurance break after that to win 6-1 in the second set and put the Wildcats ahead.
Senior Grant Roberts would clinch another match for Kentucky on court No. 5 with a three-setter. Roberts dropped the first set to Vanderbilt's Jeff Offerdahl 4-6. Roberts then took total control of the second set, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and going up double-break at 5-1. After a service game at love, Roberts won the set and forced a deciding third set. In the third, Roberts got ahead 2-0, picking up a break, and then going up double-break with a 4-0 lead. A Vanderbilt break at 4-1 would make it 4-2 and only a single-break lead for Offerdahl, but Roberts stood strong and broke right back for 5-2, serving out a 6-2 decisive-set win, and clinching the match for the Wildcats.