Unseeded and 14th-ranked Kentucky's defeat of the second-seeded and third-ranked Tigers marks the Cats' first trip to the quarterfinals of this event since 1989 and the first under Coach Mark Guilbeau. Clemson, a 2004 NCAA semifinalist, was the highest-seeded team eliminated from the event's opening round. Kentucky becomes the first team to eliminate a No. 2 seed in the opening round of the 18-year history of the ITA Women's National Team Indoor Championships.
Kentucky captured the doubles point with the aid of early service breaks. At the No. 1 slot, UK's 11th-ranked tandem of senior Aibika Kalsarieva and sophomore Sarah Foster held serve and produced a service break in the fourth game of their match against Clemson's Daniela Alvarez and Maria Brito. The two teams held serve the next two games before Kentucky claimed the last four games on its way to an 8-2 win.
At the No. 3 slot, UK's Lara Maurer and Christine Simpson followed suit, breaking Clemson's serve in the third game. Kentucky increased its cushion to 5-1 before the Tigers would take another game. The Cats and Tigers held service the next three games before Maurer and Simpson turned in one final service break for the 8-3 victory to clinch the doubles point. Clemson's Alix Lacelarie and Julie Coin held serve throughout the match at the No. 2 slot and produced service breaks in the first and last games on their way to an 8-5 victory over UK's Kim Coventry and Joelle Schwenk.
Clemson quickly tied the score at one as fifth-ranked Julie Coin dispatched UK's Kalsarieva, 6-0, 6-1. At the second singles position, Coventry broke the serve of 97th-ranked Alvarez in the fourth game on her way to a 6-2 first-set win. Alvarez held a 4-3 second-set lead, but Coventry rallied to capture the final three games to give Kentucky a 2-1 lead.
"I knew if I kept the pressure on her, I'd be able to get the break and finish the set and the match in two sets," Coventry said.
At the fifth singles slot, UK's Maurer and Clemson's Lacelarie each held serve through eight games before Maurer registered the first service break in the ninth game. She retained service to finish the set with a 7-5 win. Maurer finished the second set in similar fashion, breaking Lacelarie's serve in the ninth game to finish the set, 6-4, to give the Cats a 3-1 lead.
At the second singles position, UK's Foster took the first three games against Clemson's Farah before Farah cut the deficit to 4-3. Foster responded by breaking Farah's serve in the ninth game and finished out the set with a 6-3 win. Farah only managed a service hold in the second game of the second set, as Foster ran away with a decisive 6-1 second-set win to preserve the Kentucky victory.
At the fourth singles slot, UK's Schwenk rebounded from 0-2 deficits in each set for an easy 6-2, 6-2 victory, pushing the Wildcat lead to 5-1. UK junior Danielle Petrisko nearly rebounded for a victory after dropping the first set but fell just shy in the third-set tiebreaker, 11-9.
"What it represents for all of us is this is why we work so hard all of the time, so that we can qualify for this tournament," Guilbeau said. "It's not a given that we even get here. That's a real big first step. These kids are just special. They have something very special. They're pretty brave on match days. Not to make it sound like more than just a game, but it's takes courage and belief. Courage to implement specific game plans and to believe in their weapons and also to throw the numbers out and know they can play with a team that's a two seed or the three team in the country, whatever it is.
"They looked at it as an opportunity, and that's what I asked them to do. The good thing about playing the two seed is it's a bigger opportunity. All of these matches are big, but that's a bigger one. Let's make the most of it; let's not feel like we got a bad draw or anything like that. There are no bad draws here, it's great to be here. I'm very proud of all of them. I think a few of our kids played the smartest tennis they've ever played. We have some good stuff to build on and can get better from this type of performance. All of our players and entire staff did a great job today."
The Cats will make their first quarterfinal appearance in 16 years Friday when they take on No. 15 North Carolina at 4 p.m. EST. Scoring updates will be provided at www.itatennis.com.
No. 14 Kentucky 5, No. 3 Clemson 2
1. Foster/Kalsarieva (UK) def. Alvarez/Farah (CU) – 8-2
2. No. 25 Lacelarie/Coin (CU) def. No. 11 Coventry/Schwenk (UK) – 8-5
3. Maurer/Simpson (UK) def. Salge/Brito (CU) – 8-3
1. No. 5 Julie Coin (CU) def. No. 7 Aibika Kalsarieva (UK) 6-0, 6-1
2. No. 30 Sarah Foster (UK) def. No. 88 Romy Farah (CU) – 6-3, 6-1
3. No. 58 Kim Coventry (UK) def. No. 97 Daniela Alvarez (CU) – 6-2, 6-4
4. Joelle Schwenk (UK) def. No. 114 Maria Brito (CU) – 6-2, 6-2
5. Lara Maurer (UK) def. Alix Lacelarie (CU) – 7-5, 6-4
6. Caroline Salge (CU) def. Danielle Petrisko (UK) – 6-4, 2-6, 1-0 (11-9)