Liam Draxl, the No. 1-ranked player in the country, delivers a serve in his first-round NCAA tournament match
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – The University of Kentucky Men’s Tennis team advanced to the second round of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Tennis Championship earlier today with a 4 – 1 win over Cleveland State.
The Vikings jumped out to a quick 1 – 0 lead in the doubles, but as expected, the Cats asserted control in the singles matches with four decisive straight-set victories. Alexandre Leblanc at No. 6, Cesar Bourgois at No. 4, and Millen Hurrion at No. 3 got the Cats on the right track. Appropriately, sophomore Liam Draxl—playing at No. 1 as the top-ranked player in the country—closed out the match with a 7 – 5, 6 – 1 win for the 14th-seeded Wildcats.
“When you’re a top player in the country, these players—the pressure’s not really on them—so they’re going to give it their best shot,” Draxl said afterwards, when asked about the tough first set. “They’re going to swing freely, swing for the fences against me. He kind of caught me off guard with a couple of hot shots early on, but then I settled down and got used to his game style and came back and won the match.”
With the win, No. 15-ranked Kentucky (19 – 7) now faces the No. 19th-ranked Arizona Wildcats (20 – 7) at 1 pm Eastern on Saturday at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex. Arizona squeaked by Michigan 4 – 3 to set up the impending Wildcat war. The winner will advance to the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida, where the remaining sixteen teams will compete for a national title over a six-day span.
This isn’t new territory for Wildcat Tennis. Of all the sports on campus, the UK men’s tennis program remains one of the most greatly underappreciated. Hall of Fame coach Dennis Emery took a dormant program with no facilities and built it into a juggernaut competing regularly for SEC and NCAA championships. Familiar names such as Greg Van Emburgh, Jesse Witten, and Eric Quigley dot the landscape of program lore. For UK tennis fans, it’s gratifying to see the program once again flying high.
Great players make for winning programs. Besides his relationship with his coaches and the falling in love with the UK campus itself, there was one particularly important factor that drew the Canadian-born Draxl to the commonwealth.
“I think it’s very professionally oriented here,” Draxl explained. “I think a lot of college players just want to play at the collegiate level, but I think around here at UK, a lot of the players want to go past college and play at the pro level, which I want to do…This is a steppingstone for me and my career. I’m not satisfied, that’s for sure. I’m going to keep improving my game and see how far my tennis can take me.”
With his elite-level game, I’m interested to see how far Liam Draxl can go. Regardless of his future professional career, he’s now a card-carrying member of the Big Blue Nation.
“It’s amazing what a fan base can do,” Draxl said as a final shout out to all those supporters wearing blue. “Thanks everyone. I get so many messages on Instagram. I’m a proud Kentucky Wildcat.”
It’s high time for everybody to come on out tomorrow and give this UK tennis program the love that it deserves.