After historic team success, a UK tennis player has a chance to win NCAA singles title

·3 min read

While a historic postseason run for the Kentucky men’s tennis team came to an end Sunday with a loss in the national championship match, the Wildcats could still have a national champion this season.

The NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles Tournament began Monday, just one day after the team event ended.

Both tournaments take place at the same venue: The Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex in Champaign, Illinois.

Kentucky began Monday with two juniors in the 64-player singles field: Gabriel Diallo and Liam Draxl.

Both Diallo and Draxl played in the singles tournament last year, with Diallo reaching the Sweet 16 and Draxl (last year’s No. 1 overall seed in the tournament) becoming the first UK player since 2012 to reach the Final Four.

For the 2022 tournament, Diallo was again not seeded while Draxl was the No. 4 overall seed.

But, only Diallo remains alive in the tournament entering Wednesday’s Round of 16.

Diallo defeats No. 5 seed in straight sets, reaches Sweet 16

Diallo began his NCAA Singles Tournament on Monday with a comfortable straight-sets victory over Baylor junior Adrian Boitan, the No. 5 overall seed in the tournament.

Diallo won the match, 6-3, 6-2, to advance to the round of 32 for the second time in his career.

Then on Tuesday, Diallo followed this with a three-set win over Virginia’s Chris Rodesch.

Diallo won that match, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, to advance to the round of 16, also for the second time in his career.

Kentucky men’s tennis junior Gabriel Diallo competes during the NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles Tournament this week at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex in Champaign, Illinois.
Kentucky men’s tennis junior Gabriel Diallo competes during the NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles Tournament this week at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex in Champaign, Illinois.

For the season, Diallo is now 37-7 in singles matches, after often being slotted in the second spot for UK during team competition.

Next, Diallo will face Ohio State graduate student Matej Vocel on Wednesday in the Sweet 16.

Diallo has already beaten Vocel this season, a victory that came in straight sets.

That win came on Saturday during UK’s NCAA Tournament team win over Ohio State in the national semifinals.

Diallo — whose freshman season at UK was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic — bowed out at this stage of last year’s tournament.

Kentucky’s Liam Draxl reached the semifinals of the NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles Tournament in 2021. This year, Draxl had to retire from his opening-round match due to injury.
Kentucky’s Liam Draxl reached the semifinals of the NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles Tournament in 2021. This year, Draxl had to retire from his opening-round match due to injury.

Draxl’s tournament cut short

Draxl — who played in the one spot for UK during team competition this season — won the first set against Wake Forest fifth-year player Eduardo Nava, 6-4, but trailed in the second set, 1-3, when Draxl retired with an injury.

This brought an end to Draxl’s junior season.

Draxl was named the SEC Newcomer of the Year as a sophomore, and in December, he won his first professional singles tennis championship at the M15 Cancun tournament in Mexico, part of the International Tennis Federation World Tennis Tour.

As a junior, he was named to the All-Southeastern Conference First Team and the All-NCAA Tournament Team.

The often animated Draxl brought energy and entertainment during UK’s dual matches this season.

“We knew that this was probably the year we could do some damage,” Draxl previously told the Herald-Leader. “These guys are my best friends, my brothers and I think it’s more enjoyable working out with them, working hard and then going to battle with them. I think our culture is very good and we just thrive in it and we all become better tennis players.”

Upcoming tournament match

Just like in dual-match competition, matches in the NCAA Singles Tournament are played in a best-of-three-sets format.

No-ad scoring and a seven-point tiebreaker (first to seven points, must win by two points) at six-games-all will be used for all matches.

In Wednesday’s round of 16, Diallo will face Ohio State graduate student Matej Vocel.

All matches in the tournament are live streamed on the TennisONE app. The app is free to download on the iOS and Google Play app stores and can be accessed at https://tennis.one/home.

The updated NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles Tournament bracket can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/32wbcstd.