Get to know: Kentucky Men's Tennis
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Get to know: Kentucky Men's Tennis

Article written by:Hunter SheltonHunter Shelton

Hunter Shelton

Photo by Andy Mead | ISI Photos | Getty Images

Sure, Mark Stoops is taking Kentucky Football to the moon. John Calipari has yet another championship-caliber squad on the hardwood. The Volleyball and Men’s Soccer teams are making deep runs into their respective tournaments.

But I’d like to point you in the direction of the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex.

Nestled in south campus on the University of Kentucky, just across the street from Kroger Field, The Boone is home to the Kentucky Men’s Tennis team.

Currently No. 11 in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings, Kentucky is off to a scorching hot 4-0 start in the regular season.

Through four matches, the Wildcats are yet to concede a single point, outscoring their opponents 17-0.

A grueling schedule awaits Kentucky, however. The Cats are currently scheduled to play five teams that are ranked in the top 10, beginning with a home match against No. 7 Virginia on Feb. 4.

As UK rolls into the meat of its schedule, let’s look at who and what makes this team tick.

Liam Draxl

If you’re someone who follows UK Athletics closely, you’ve possibly seen this name float around your timeline on occasion as of last year.

Liam Draxl, the reigning Intercollegiate Tennis Association Player of the Year, holds down court one for the Wildcats.

After making the semifinals of the 2021 NCAA Singles Championship, Draxl returns to Lexington to make another run for glory.

Draxl is a future professional tennis player who decided to go the route of playing collegiate tennis instead of turning pro at a younger age.

A native of Newmarket, Ontario, Draxl is currently unranked in the ITA polls, as he forewent the fall collegiate season, opting instead for a spring 2022 debut. 

Through three singles matches, Draxl has outscored his opponents 36-17.

Gabriel Diallo

The current top-ranked player for the Wildcats also comes via Canada in the form of No. 4 Gabriel Diallo.

Diallo, like Draxl, returns to Kentucky following a successful 2021 spring season. The junior reached the quarterfinals of the Singles Championship as the No. 6 seed.

Standing at 6-foot-7, Diallo’s length and power make him the best court two player in the nation.

The one-two punch of Draxl and Diallo will strike fear into the hearts of the SEC this season.

A pair of transfers

Kentucky bolstered its roster over the offseason by adding a pair of transfers that will fill out the middle of UK’s singles lineup.

JJ Mercer joins the ‘Cats after transferring from Ohio State following one season. The sophomore compiled a 4-3 singles record in his limited action for the Buckeyes last season.

Mercer was a top prospect coming out of high school. In four seasons at Huntington High School in West Virginia, Mercer won every match he played, going 80-0 and winning four state titles.

Francois Musitelli joins Kentucky after three seasons at Old Dominion, where he was a three-time All-Conference singles and doubles player.

In his most recent season that was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Musitelli amassed an 11-1 record on the top singles court for the Monarchs.

Experience and depth

The SEC in men’s tennis, like about every other sport, is one of the more dominant conferences, having eight teams currently in the ITA Top 25.

Once conference play begins for the Wildcats, it will be a weekly battle against some of the top singles and doubles players in the nation. What will be in favor of the ‘Cats is that they carry experience and depth into the 2022 season.

Kentucky brings back all but one player from last season, including five of its top six singles players.

The top three singles players for UK are Draxl, Diallo and graduate student Millen Hurrion, who all carry experience from the postseason in the NCAA Singles tournament.

While it will be a tough road ahead if Kentucky wants to win its first-ever NCAA Championship, the Wildcats will have the firepower to do.

Kentucky’s next match will be against unranked Alabama in the first round of the ITA Kickoff Weekend in Starkville on Jan. 29. If the Cats win, they will play the winner of No. 21 Mississippi State and Arkansas.

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