Ohio State Buckeyes fall to Kentucky in NCAA men's tennis semifinal

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch
Saturday marked the fourth time Ty Tucker's Buckeyes have lost in the NCAA semifinals. OSU also lost in the 2009 and 2018 finals.

URBANA, Ill. – Ohio State's quest for an elusive NCAA men's tennis championship has gone unfulfilled again.

The Buckeyes under coach Ty Tucker have won everything except that ultimate prize. This year, No. 4 OSU was the highest remaining seed in the semifinals, but No. 8 Kentucky dominated the singles on the indoor courts at the University of Illinois to win 4-1.

The Wildcats will play Virginia in Sunday's final.

It was the fourth time the Buckeyes lost in the semifinals. OSU also lost in the 2009 and 2018 finals.

Ohio State won the doubles point Saturday and won three of the six first sets in singles. It all went south after that.

Kentucky won the second set of every match. The Wildcats clinched the victory when Liam Draxl defeated Cannon Kingsley at No. 1 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Justin Boulais was two points away at that point from losing his match at No. 5 to Millen Hurrion, trailing 3-6, 6-1, 5-0.

“It's a cruel game,” Tucker said. “It's brutal. All of a sudden, they flipped it on us and we never really got out of it. We had our opportunities.”

Ohio State (28-4) won the doubles point easily, with Matej Vocel and Robert Cash winning 6-3, and Kingsley and JJ Tracy taking their set 6-1.

Kingsley, Boulais and Andrew Lutschaunig at No. 6 won their first sets, but dropped the second sets. Lutchaunig led 3-0 before losing in a tiebreaker.

The three Kentucky players who won the opening sets clamped down in the second. Vocel lost at No. 2 to Gabriel Diallo 6-3, 6-2 and Tracy fell at No. 3 6-1, 6-2 to Millen Hurrion to give Kentucky (26-7) a 2-1 lead.

Jake Van Emburgh had a chance to send his match to a third set when he got three break points leading 6-5 but couldn't convert any of them against Francois Musitelli, who then won the tiebreaker to win the match.

That meant the Buckeyes had to win the remaining matches. But they couldn't rally. Kingsley's serve was broken when missed a drop shot at deuce, which in college tennis is game point, to fall behind 4-2 against Liam Draxl, a finalist in last year's NCAA singles.

“I was seeing what was going on (in the other matches),” Kingsley said. “It's tough when momentum is shifting the other way to keep your focus on yourself, and obviously, I could have done some things better.”

More:Andrew Lutschaunig helps Ohio State Buckeyes clinch NCAA tennis win over Michigan

With Boulais on the verge of losing, Draxl broke Kingsley again to clinch Kentucky's victory.

“It's obviously not the way we wanted it to go,” Kingsley said. “Everyone put their heart into the season. It's a tough way to end, but overall it was a really good season.”

Ohio State defeated Kentucky 4-0 at home in February when the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1, but Tucker said injuries prevented him from using the same lineup on Saturday. Cash was limited to doubles, and James Trotter didn't play.

Matej Vocel and Robert Cash clinched Ohio State's only point Saturday.

“It's truly been next man up,” Tucker said. “Stuff happens. It's real. It kind of caught up to us.

“We were in charge. What more could you ask for? You're in the semifinals of the national tournament with three first sets and you've got the doubles point. We didn't get it done for Ohio State, and that's on me. But it's been a great year. Making the final four isn't a bad deal (though) it's going to hurt for a while.”

As for falling short again in the NCAA tournament, Tucker said, “It's not painful at all. I just look forward to the next chance. It's an unbelievable life. Nobody is going to feel bad for me.”

More:OSU men's tennis beats USC, advances to NCAA quarterfinals for first time since 2018

The NCAA singles and doubles tournaments begin Monday.

Kingsley, Vocel, Tracy and Trotter are in the men's singles. Vocel and Cash are the No. 2 seed in doubles, and Trotter will team with Boulais.

In the women's tournament, OSU's  Irina Cantos Siemers and Isabelle Boulais are in the singles tournament. Cantos Siemers will team with Sydni Ratliff in doubles.

Bill Rabinowitz covers Ohio State for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at or on Twitter @brdispatch.