After historic team success, another UK tennis player reaches Elite Eight of NCAA singles tournament

·3 min read

After 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 had an individual reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles Tournament for the second straight season.

The 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.

Diallo went the furthest of the two players, with Draxl unable to complete his first match.

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.

Diallo defeats No. 5 seed, reaches Elite Eight

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.

Wednesday brought another three-set victory for Diallo, as he bested Ohio State’s Matej Vocel, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, as Diallo advanced to the Elite Eight in the singles tournament for the first time in his career.

This marked the second time in five days that Diallo beat Vocel in Champaign, with the other victory coming as part of UK’s team triumph over Ohio State in the national semifinals.

But, Diallo’s run in the tournament came to an end in the Elite Eight against Tennessee’s Adam Walton on Thursday.

Despite winning the first set and holding a 5-3 lead in the third and deciding set, Diallo lost to Walton, the No. 3 overall seed in the tournament.

Diallo lost the match: 6-4, 4-6, 6-7 (3-7).

This was the third straight day that Diallo played a three-set match.

For the season, Diallo went 38-8 in singles matches, after often being slotted in the second spot for UK during team competition.

Diallo now has 65 career wins in singles.

Draxl’s tournament cut short

Draxl — who played in the one spot for UK during team competition this season — won the first set Monday night 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.”

Kentucky’s Liam Draxl, the No. 4 overall seed in the 2022 NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles Tournament, had to retire from his opening match due to injury.
Kentucky’s Liam Draxl, the No. 4 overall seed in the 2022 NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles Tournament, had to retire from his opening match due to injury.
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