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April 3, 2011

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina scored a pair of singles victories in a 5-2 loss to No. 14 Kentucky in SEC men’s tennis action at Maxcy Gregg Tennis Center Sunday afternoon. The Gamecocks narrowly lost the doubles point and took three of the six singles matches to three sets as they showed considerable fight against the highly ranked Wildcats. Sophomore Alexander Kostanov and freshman Chip Cox picked up the singles wins, both battling back from losing the first set against nationally ranked opponents.

“I’m really proud of our players today,” South Carolina head coach Josh Goffi said. “We lost six first sets but battled back to be in position to win four second sets. Three players consolidated those opportunities, which is the grit I’ve been looking for this season. The team definitely showed it today against the highest-ranked team we’ve played. It’s a 5-2 loss on the scoreboard, but there are definitely ways I see this much like a win for our program.”

In doubles action, Kentucky got out to a quick lead and cruised to an 8-1 win in the No. 3 match. The Gamecocks were battling on the other two courts. In the No. 2 match, Kostanov and Cox dropped an early service game but got it right back when Cox’s great return set up a pair of quick volleys for winner. Two games later, the Gamecock duo went up a break when again Cox hit a well-placed return to beat Alejandro Gomez, putting the Gamecocks up 4-3. The teams held through a 6-5 South Carolina advantage, but the Wildcat tandem pressed ahead to win the final three games of the match. In the No. 1 match, the Gamecocks’ tandem of Ivan Machado and Nick Jones had the nation’s No. 51-ranked team on the ropes. Tied at 4-4, the Gamecocks had a break point, which they won as Machado’s service return set up a crushing overhead from Jones. A pair of miscues late in Machado’s service game, gave the break right back to Tom Jomby and Alberto Gonzalez. With the point decided in Kentucky’s favor, the match went to a tiebreaker, which the Wildcats rallied to win 7-5.

The Wildcats pounced early in singles action, sweeping through the first sets in all six matches. The Gamecocks refused to go away quietly, however, and found themselves ahead in the second sets in the Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 matches.

Kentucky doubled its 1-0 lead from doubles behind Eric Quigley’s 6-2, 6-2 win over Machado in the No. 1 match. Machado broke the nation’s No. 7 player in the first game of the match, but Quigley used some stellar shot-making to get back in the set, then capitalized on Machado’s serving difficulties late to win the first set. The combination held through the second set as well.

The Wildcats took a 3-0 lead with a win in the No. 6 match just as the Gamecocks were taking hold in their second sets in the remaining matches. After dropping the first set 6-4, Jones had No. 104 Anthony Rossi on the ropes 3-1 in the second set of the No. 4 match, but saw the Wildcats’ sophomore rally back to win the set 6-4 to clinch the victory for Kentucky.

Kostanov faced the most strident uphill battle of the remaining three players on court. Facing the nation’s 51st-ranked player in Alex Musialek, Kostanov had seen an early service break slip away in the first set to fall 6-3 in the opening stanza. In the second set, he again scored an early break, carrying a 3-1 lead. The players traded service breaks just as the overall team match was decided, and Kostanov went on to win the final two games for a 6-2 second-set win. With the match already decided, the two played a super tie-breaker to decide the match. UK’s Frenchman took an early lead, but Kostanov answered with a service winner and a cross-court backhand to take a 3-2 lead. He took a 6-4 lead when Musialek’s backhand hit the tape and caromed wide, and stretched his margin to 8-5 with a pair of strong serves. Musialek again fought back, knotting things at 8-8. On the next point, Kostanov sent a forehand deep in the court, catching his opponent wrong-footed and the response sailed wide to set up match point. While he fought off the first one, Musialek was quickly facing a second match point as Kostanov sent a backhand up the line for a clean winner and a 10-9 advantage. Serving for the match, the Gamecock sophomore launched a big serve to take control of the point and came in behind a cross-court backhand, which set up an easy forehand volley to win the match.

While Kostanov got his match to a final-set tiebreaker, Cox and Harry Menzies were battling away in a full third set. In the No. 5 match, which was played by two of the most emotionally charged players on the court, Menzies recovered from a 6-3 loss in the first set to score an early 3-0 lead on Jomby in the second. When that lead reached 5-2 behind a hard-fought hold for Menzies, Jomby grew rattled by the rowdy crowd and double-faulted on set point to give Menzies the 6-2 win. The Wildcat freshman recovered to win the third set 6-1.

In the last match on court, Cox was locked in a battle with No. 100 Gonzalez. Kentucky’s senior had won the first set 6-4 win a service break in the final game. In the second set, Cox used a break in the third game and steady service games through the rest of the set to get his own 6-4 win. After the team result had been determined early in the third set, Gonzalez was looking to go to a super tiebreaker, and when that option was eliminated by the coaches Cox was the most prepared to soldier on. A decisive overhead delivered a service break for a 3-2 lead, but Gonzalez broke back in the next game. Cox trailed in the set’s eighth game and continued to show his fight to hold onto the service game. He carried that momentum through to break Gonzalez at Love to take a 5-4 lead. Cox punctuated his final service game with a service winner on match point for the 6-4 win.

South Carolina takes its final road trip next weekend, heading to No. 9 Georgia and No. 4 Tennessee on Friday and Sunday, respectively, before closing out the season at home against No. 15 Florida on Sat., April 16.

No. 14 Kentucky 5, South Carolina 2

Doubles (Order of Finish: 3, 2, 1)
1. (51) Tom Jomby/Alberto Gonzalez (UK) def. Ivan Machado / Nick Jones (SC) 6-5 (7-5)
2. Eric Quigley/Alejandro Gomez (UK def. Alexander Kostanov / Chip Cox (SC) 8-6
3. Anthony Rossi/Alex Musialek (UK) def. Harry Menzies / Chris Sheehan (SC) 8-1

Singles (Order of Finish: (1, 6, 4, 2, 5, 3)
1. (7) Eric Quigley (UK) def. Ivan Machado (SC) 6-2, 6-2
2. Alexander Kostanov (SC) def. (51) Alex Musialek (UK) 3-6, 6-2, 1-0 (9)
3. Chip Cox (SC) def. (100) Alberto Gonzalez (UK) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
4. (104) Anthony Rossi (UK) def. Nick Jones (SC) 6-3, 6-4
5. Tom Jomby (UK) def. Harry Menzies (SC) 6-3, 2-6, 6-1
6. Grant Roberts (UK) def. Jake Bowling (SC) 6-1, 6-3