With the regular season winding down and heading into SEC Tournament play, the No. 19 Tennessee men’s tennis team (19-6, 8-3 SEC) welcomed one of the stronger squads in the SEC, the No. 22 Kentucky Wildcats, to Knoxville on Friday.
Tennessee picked up a huge SEC win in its second to last regular season game, defeating the Wildcats 4-3. Earlier in the week, head coach Chris Woodruff stated he wanted to see a complete match from his squad as the season winds down.
He was pleased with what he saw on Friday.
“We’re closer,” Woodruff said, “There’s still a few areas, but I thought in doubles we played really complete. It set the tone I thought. We need to continue to get better.”
As always, doubles play kicked off the ranked match. Despite a rocky start, with all but one court losing the first set per match, Tennessee was able to gain the doubles point and an edge over its Wildcat opponents.
The Tennessee duo of Timo Stodder and Adam Walton got the Vols on the board in doubles play first. After losing the first game, they would practically sweep their Wildcat opponents in William Bushamuka and Austin Hussey, winning six more games to Kentucky’s one to take the first doubles set, 6-2.
The No. 24 ranked duo of Preston Touliatos and senior Luis Valero got a big win against Kentucky’s No. 36 ranked duo, Cesar Bourgois and Gus Benson. In a back and forth set that saw very frequent lead changes, it was the opponents found themselves knotted at 3-3.
The Vol duo would pick up some steam, winning three straight games to secure victory and boost Tennessee to a 1-0 overall lead.
The three-spot doubles match between Scott Jones and Andrew Rogers versus the Wildcat pairing of Ryotaro Matsumura and Enzo Wallart went unfinished.
While Tennessee dominated doubles play, the six singles matches taking place on Friday were all battles.
One of the marquee matches of the night pit No. 22 nationally-ranked Stodder of Tennessee against one of the best in the nation, No. 9 overall Matsumura from Kentucky.
As it turns out, this was the first match to find a conclusion. The first set lived up to the billing, with Stodder barely edging out his Wildcat opponent 6-4.
However, in the second, Stodder was able to pull ahead, 5-2, and though Matsumura attempted a valiant rally, winning the next game, Stodder sealed victory in the ninth, downing Matsumura 6-3 and giving Tennessee a 2-0 lead.
With a tide of momentum, Tennessee continued its charge in the singles matches. Touliatos, who has taken a huge step for Tennessee this year, dominated the Wildcat Hussey in their first set as opponents, 6-1. However, the second set would provide a bit more of a challenge.
After breaking back at five apiece, Touliatos would take the next two sets to gain a 7-5 victory and put Tennessee within one match of a total victory at 3-0.
Despite the deficit, the Wildcats began to roar back. Kentucky’s Benson took Luca Wiedenmann for the Vols to battle. After dropping the first set 7-5, Wiedenmann defeated Benson in the second 6-2 to leave it all up to a third set.
Benson took the last set, 6-3, to give Kentucky its first point and begin chewing into the Tennessee lead.
Kentucky’s Trey Yates would keep the ball rolling for the Wildcats, though it would be a tall task. It took two tiebreakers to defeat Jones (7-6(5), 7-6(4)), his Tennessee opponent, but when the dust settled it was another point for the Wildcats, cutting Tennessee’s lead to 3-2.
Walton, ranked 112th nationally, would be the closer for Tennessee, winning a three-set contest 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to clinch an overall Tennessee win, its second straight SEC victory.
The match between Valero and Kentucky’s Bushamuka played through, with Valero narrowly losing, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7.
“(Today’s win is) huge,” Touliatos said, “We said our goal is to get two wins this weekend, we’re halfway there right now. We just kept fighting throughout the entire match.”
The Vols are next in action at home on Sunday, as they face their final regular season opponent in No. 22 Vanderbilt. First serve is set for 1 p.m.