COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina senior Harry Menzies celebrated his Senior Day in the best way possible, rallying to win his third set and deliver a 4-3 win over No. 8 Kentucky for the 22nd-ranked Gamecocks Sunday afternoon at Carolina Tennis Center. The Wildcats had closed within a point of winning the team match, but Thiago Pinheiro and Kyle Koch won their matches to set up Menzies' heroics in the final regular-season match of his career. It is South Carolina's first top-10 victory since April 2005, and the Gamecocks' school-record tying seventh SEC win of the season.
"[These players] have proven again and again this season that they are strong individuals," South Carolina head coach Josh Goffi said. "These guys are going to be successful in whatever they do because their character is unmatched. That is why we are getting these wins. The guys do the right things in the right moments. They're smart and digest the game plans. And, today couldn't be more storybook [for Harry Menzies]. I was glad to see Thiago [Pinheiro] get his win and then that [Kyle] Koch could get that second set to set things up for Harry. With the way Harry's career has gone, he needed that, and it was great to see him come through in his big moment."
The match was hotly contested from the outset with the Gamecocks coming off a win over No. 13 Vanderbilt Friday while the Wildcats were trying to stop a two-match losing streak. South Carolina's No. 2 doubles team of Koch and Menzies, ranked 84th in the nation, were the first to finish, with an 8-5 win over Grant Roberts and Anthony Rossi. The Wildcats leveled things with a late break in the No. 1 match, just as Pinheiro and Andrew Adams went into a tiebreak with Ryuji Hirooka and Beck Pennington. Kentucky scored the first point, but the Gamecocks won the next six points to set up match point. The Wildcats were not ready to quit, though, holding off three match points before succumbing 9-8 (4).
Singles went Kentucky's way early with only Menzies and Pinheiro able to get early leads in their first sets. Adams, in at No. 102 nationally this week, appeared to join them with a break to go up 3-1, but No. 21 Tom Jomby took it right back in the next game. Koch was down a break early, but was fighting back, while Tsvetan Mihov and Chip Cox were both trailing in their Nos. 1 and 5 matches, respectively.
While Koch broke to get back on serve a 3-4, Menzies briefly stumbled as Pennington got one back one of his two breaks in the No. 6 match. The Gamecocks' lone senior finished off the freshman with a break to win the first set 6-3, but moments later the Wildcats went up a set on Courts 1, 2 and 5. Pinheiro withstood pressure form Charles Minc on Court 3 to win his first set 6-4, which just left Koch's in the balance. The sophomore was in a tiebreak with Roberts, which he dominated with patience and well-timed power, closing it out 7-6 (1) to keep the teams even with three first sets each.
By that time, Menzies was up a break in his second set, as was Adams, but both saw their opponents fight their way back in. Pennington finished off his rally with a6-3 win over Menzies to force a third set. Just after No. 19 Rossi posted a 6-2, 6-2 win over Mihov, Adams had two break points on Jomby to take a 5-4 lead, but the Frenchman battled out of the jam then went ahead by breaking Adams in the next game. Lai and Jomby finished in rapid succession to make it a 3-1 Kentucky lead as Cox dropped his 6-3, 6-4 decision and Adams fell 6-4, 6-4 within minutes of each other.
Those wins came just after Pinheiro had surged ahead of Minc with a break at 4-3. With Koch and Roberts on serve at 4-3, Menzies answered his teammates' setbacks with a break for a 3-2 lead. The senior saw Pennington fight off two break points, but stayed on top and set up a third, which he won with an overhead. Back on Court 3, Minc was serving to stay in the match, but Pinheiro was relentless. The Gamecocks' passionate Brazilian won the first three points of the game, and was undeterred when Minc saved two of them before finally yielding to Pinheiro 6-4, 6-3.
Trailing 3-2, the Gamecocks needed both of the final matches on court, and both were going down to the bitter end. After Koch saw Roberts rally back from Love-40 down to stay on serve at 5-5 just as Pennington held off a pair of break points to keep pace with Menzies. The game was interrupted by conversation with the referees about the rowdiness of the fans hovering over the two crucial matches, and Pennington was able to recover to hold his serve but was still down a break at 4-3.
Koch saw his first match point erased by an unlucky bounce off the net on Roberts' serve, and the two went into another tiebreak. Pennington rode the momentum of his emotional serve to break Menzies and level the match at 4-4 just after Koch and Roberts began battling out their tiebreak. Great hands at the net set up an easy putaway for Koch to take at 5-4 lead, and Roberts' miscue on the next point set up match point with Menzies starting to serve at 5-5 on the next court.
Roberts pushed past two more match points for Koch and earned a set point of his own with solid net work, but Menzies was now in control on Court 6. The senior played a great defensive point and forced Pennington into a misfire to set up two break points On the second, Menzies delivered a passing shot to take a 6-5 lead.
The advance of his doubles partner energized Koch, who played a patient point, working Grant around the court until he saw his opening to take the net and put away the point to pull even at 8-8. Another long rally saw Grant dump shot into the net for Koch's fourth match point. Another long forehand from Pennington gave Koch the hard-fought 7-6 (8) win.
Menzies was serving for the match and up 30-15 when Koch wrapped things up and attention focused squarely on Court 6. Two pressure-filled points later, Menzies leapt into the air as the crowd and team erupted around him in celebration of his 7-5 victory.
South Carolina's win was the Gamecocks' seventh in the SEC this season, tying them with the 1999 team for the most in school history. Their 17 wins overall are the most since the 2005 squad finished 20-10 en route to the NCAA Sweet 16.
The Gamecocks await their seed for next week's SEC Tournament, which begins on Wed., April 17, in Oxford, Miss.
#22 South Carolina 4, #8 Kentucky 3
Doubles (Order of Finish: 2, 1, 3*)
1. (8) Tom Jomby/Kevin Lai (UK) def. (18) Chip Cox/Tsvetan Mihov (SC) 8-6
2. (84) Kyle Koch/Harry Menzies (SC) def. Grant Roberts/Anthony Rossi (UK) 8-5
3. Thiago Pinheiro/Andrew Adams (SC) def. Ryuji Hirooka/Beck Pennington (UK) 9-8 (4)
Singles (Order of Finish: 1, 5, 2, 3, 4, 6*)
1. (19) Anthony Rossi (UK) def. (67) Tsvetan Mihov (SC) 6-2, 6-2
2. (21) Tom Jomby (UK) def. (102) Andrew Adams (SC) 6-4, 6-4
3. Thiago Pinheiro (SC) def. Charles Minc (UK) 6-4, 6-3
4. Kyle Koch (SC) def. Grant Roberts (UK) 7-6 (1), 7-6 (8)
5. Kevin Lai (UK) def. Chip Cox (SC) 6-3, 6-4
6. Harry Menzies (SC) def. Beck Pennington (UK) 6-3, 3-6, 7-5