The Kentucky men’s tennis team’s best postseason run in the more than a decade was only delayed, not deterred by Saturday’s lightning and rain in Lexington.
Now, the Wildcats are into the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals for the fifth time in school history.
UK, 24-7 overall this season, scored a 4-2 win over Wake Forest on Saturday at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex to reach the Elite Eight, which will begin Thursday at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex in Champaign, Illinois.
Saturday’s victory over Wake Forest began outside and finished inside.
A 2 pm start in front of a lively home crowd was met with hot, sunny weather, but storms crept in as several singles matches stretched into third sets.
Around 4:45 pm, an announcement that lightning was detected within 8 miles of the tennis complex sent the match into a delay, with both teams retreating to their indoor locker rooms and spectators advised to seek shelter in their cars.
During this lightning delay, rain moved through Lexington and left the outdoor courts in wet, unplayable condition.
So the three matches still in progress resumed on the tennis complex’s indoor courts after more than an hour delay.
Kentucky, which will finish the season with a 12-2 record at home, lost the doubles point to Wake Forest, but then picked up four singles wins from Liam Draxl, JJ Mercer, Gabriel Diallo and Millen Hurrion to defeat the Demon Deacons.
Draxl, a 6-3, 6-1 winner, and Mercer, who prevailed 7-6 (3), 6-1, both finished before the weather delay.
Diallo —6-2, 3-6, 6-1 – and Hurrion – 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 – won their matches inside after the delay.
It was Hurrion’s win that sent the native of Weymouth, England, sprawling on his back in celebration after he clinched the match for Kentucky.
UK is the No. 8 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, which allowed the Cats to host Saturday’s Sweet 16 match against Wake Forest, which was the tournament’s No. 9 overall seed and finishes the season with a 33-7 record.
Kentucky will play No. 1 overall seed TCU in Thursday’s quarterfinal.
All three of Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament wins so far this season have come in Lexington, as UK won 4-0 in the opening round against DePaul and 4-2 in the second round against Northwestern last weekend.
By reaching the Sweet 16, UK had recorded its best postseason run since 2014.
Now by reaching the Elite Eight, Kentucky has qualified for its fifth national quarterfinals and its first since 2011.
UK head coach Cedric Kauffmann – a native of France who was a three-time All-SEC performer as a player at Kentucky – has led the Cats to eight NCAA Tournament appearances, three Sweet 16 trips and one Elite Eight berth in his 10 seasons as head coach.
Kauffmann first joined the UK coaching staff as an assistant in 2005.
The Cats also reached the finals of the SEC Tournament this season before losing to Florida (the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and another national quarterfinalist).
Kentucky owns a 32-30 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament.
UK entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 9-ranked team in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association team rankings and as the No. 7-ranked team in the United States Tennis Association rankings.
Regardless of how UK performs in the Elite Eight, the Cats will be sending both Diallo and Draxl to the NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles Tournament.
Diallo and Draxl were both at-large selections to that tournament, which will be held May 23-28, also at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex in Champaign, Illinois.
Both Diallo and Draxl played in the singles tournament last year, with Diallo reaching the Sweet 16 while Draxl, then the No. 1 seed, became the first UK player to reach the Final Four since 2012.
Both players were first-team All-SEC selections this season.
Draxl is the No. 4 overall seed for this year’s singles tournament.
This story was originally published May 14, 2022 6:44 PM.