Tennessee's men's tennis team was defeated by No. 22 Kentucky Sunday afternoon at UT's Varsity Courts.
The No. 17-ranked Volunteers (11-6, 4-4 SEC) led by a score of 3-1, but were unable to hold off a late singles rally by the Wildcats.
With the team score tied at 3-3 Sunday, Tennessee junior Mark Dietrich and Kentucky sophomore Nate Emge were engaged in the deciding set of their battle at the No. 4 singles position. The players remained on serve until Emge, leading 5-4, managed to break service and capture a 2-6, 7-6(7), 6-4 match-clinching victory for the Wildcats (15-6, 5-3).
"Kentucky showed a lot of fight today," UT coach Michael Fancutt said. "Once again we were up 3-1 and serving for the match, and we couldn't finish it off.
"We have to give full credit to Kentucky's fighting spirit."
The doubles portion of Sunday's match took nearly two hours to complete and was full of drama. Kentucky's Evan Austin and Alex Hume defeated the UT team of Dietrich and Wade Orr at the No. 2 position, but Tennessee's freshmen tandem of Ockie Oosthuizen and Ben Rogers quickly answered back with an 8-5 win over UK's Emge and Tigran Martirosyan at the No. 3 spot.
For the second time in as many matches, Tennessee's hopes of winning the always-important double point rested on the shoulders of Simon Rea and Damien Spizzo, the No. 41-ranked doubles team in the nation.
Rea and Spizzo fought their way into a tiebreaker versus the No. 16-ranked team of Jesse Witten and Rahim Esmail. The Vol upperclassmen edged UK's top tandem by a score of 11-9 in the decisive tiebreaker, giving Tennessee its 14th doubles point in 17 dual matches and a 1-0 lead heading into singles play.
With the sun beaming down and a slight wind blowing baseline to baseline, UT jumped out to a one-set lead on five of the six singles courts.
Tennessee freshman Kiril Tcherveniachki continued to be a model of consistency for the Vols, dispatching UK's Jason Malliah 6-2, 6-1 at the No. 5 position. Tcherveniachki's overall singles record now stands at 14-5 on the year.
The Wildcats then tallied their first point of the afternoon when No. 8-ranked Witten edged No. 45-ranked Rea at the No. 1 position, 7-5, 6-0.
The Vols' lead was extended to 3-1 when Oosthuizen finished off Austin in straight sets at No. 2. Oosthuizen's victory left Spizzo, Dietrich and Orr - at Nos. 3, 4 and 6, respectively - in position to clinch the win for Tennessee.
Spizzo's comeback effort was thwarted in three sets by No. 61-ranked Martirosyan, and Orr was upset by Esmail moments later. Esmail's victory tied the match at 3-3 and set the stage for Emge's clincher at No. 4.
Tennessee is back in action Saturday at 1 p.m. when it plays host to No. 10-ranked Georgia. Orr and Rea will be honored during Senior Day ceremonies before the match.