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March 11, 2005


Lexington, Ky. – The USC men’s tennis team dropped its fourth match of the season on Friday, as 28th-ranked Kentucky easily defeated the Gamecocks 5-2 in Lexington. Carolina (12-4, 2-1 SEC) was swept in doubles and won just two singles matches in their first conference loss of the year, and fourth straight loss to the Wildcats (6-5, 1-2 SEC). Gamecock sophomore Pedro Rodrigues won his first singles match in three weeks, and senior Ben Atkinson won his fourth straight singles match to earn the only points for USC in the Eastern Division opener for both squads.

It did not take Kentucky long to capture the all-important doubles point to begin the match at the Boone Indoor Tennis Complex. The `Cats Nate Emge and Alex Hume quickly defeated USC’s Dmitry Babenko and Atkinson 8-1 at No. 3 doubles. No. 1 doubles would be the point-clinching match for UK, as the 19th-ranked duo of Tigran Martirosyan and Jesse Witten downed Carolina’s top pair of Rodrigues and junior Geraldo Knorr 8-4. For the third time in the last six matches, the Gamecock pair of junior Tom Eklund and freshman Jaime Cuellar had their No. 2 doubles match suspended when tied or leading. Against Kentucky they led 6-5 over Matt Emery and Marcus Sundh when the match was called.

When the match moved to singles, any hopes of Carolina pulling off their fourth consecutive come-from-behind win would be dashed as 6th-ranked Jesse Witten defeated reigning SEC Player of the Week Eklund at No. 1 singles 6-2, 6-4, while Kentucky’s Hume handed USC freshman Jaime Cuellar his first loss of the season by the same score on court four, to hand the Wildcats a 3-0 lead. The loss snapped a 14-match winning streak for Cuellar that dated back to the consolation bracket of the SEC Coaches Indoor Championships in January. The 30th-ranked Gamecocks would pull back a point on court two when Rodrigues defeated Matt Emery 4-6, 6-3, 6-5. It marks his first win since downing Georgia Southern’s Jasha Janashia on February 20 in Columbia and his first three-set victory since he outlasted Geoff Boyd of North Carolina in Chapel Hill February 10.

The Wildcats would clinch the match and their first conference win of the season when Martirosyan handed Babenko just his third singles loss of the year, winning 6-3, 6-4 at No. 5 singles. USC’s Knorr and UK’s Emge traded 6-4 sets at No. 3 singles, but Emge wound up on top in the third and decisive set, adding to the Wildcats’ point total with a 6-1 third set victory. The final match and Carolina’s second point were won when Atkinson won his second singles match against Kentucky in the last three years, defeating Carey Rubin 6-2, 1-1(def.) at No. 6 singles.

USC will look bounce back when they host 40th-ranked Vanderbilt (7-3, 0-2 SEC) on Sunday afternoon. The Commodores are set to face No. 7 Florida in Gainesville later Friday before traveling to Columbia. VU was swept in its SEC opener, 7-0 by Ole Miss in Oxford last Friday and fell 5-2 to Mississippi State in Starkville on Sunday. The Commodores open their SEC season on a six-match road swing and still have matches at Florida, USC, and LSU before they return to Nashville to host Alabama on April 1. The match between the Gamecocks and Vanderbilt is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Sam Daniel Tennis Center, adjacent to Sarge Frye Field. Fans are encouraged to arrive extra early on Sunday, as the Carolina baseball team is hosting archrival Clemson beginning at 1:30 p.m. at Sarge Frye.