The last 10 days have been feverish for Gabriel Diallo who has had his best moments since joining the Kentucky Wildcats tennis program in the fall of 2019.
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The Wildcats initially caused a big upset by reaching the NCAA Tag Team Tournament Finals for the first time in club history. Their best performance had been a four-time Sweet 16 appearance. Their dream run came to an end on Sunday as they lowered the flag to the Virginia Cavaliers.
Diallo was still floating on cloud nine when we joined him in Lexington on Friday.
"We had an unforgettable experience," he said. These are memories that will remain etched in my memory for life. It's amazing what we've accomplished. We knew we had good potential, but we didn't expect to make it to the final. »
The Wildcats ousted the quarter-final favorites to earn their ticket to Final 4.
“We had one of the best seasons in the history of the program, but we were not the favorites, summed up the winner of the 2018 and 2019 editions of the Louis-Després Invitation. We took out TCU in the quarter-finals. We won by a score of 4-3 in the snatch. In the semifinals, we defeated Ohio State (fourth seed) 4-1 who had beaten us 4-0 in the regular season. »
While he struggled in his first year in the NCAA, the 6'5", 180-pound Montreal native now loves the NCAA team concept.
“I had problems adapting to my first season, he admitted, but it's so much fun when you learn to manage the pressure. You're playing for something bigger than you. You play for your school and your state. »
Diallo's Cinderella journey continued in the singles tournament as he came within a game of qualifying for the semi-final. Serving with a 5-3 lead in the third set on Thursday, he finally lost the tiebreaker to Adam Walton of the Tennessee Volunteers.
“My goal was to reach the round of 16 as I had succeeded in 2021 to be elected All American, he underlined. I had a rather complicated chart. I faced the fifth seed in my first game and faced the number one player from Virginia who had beaten us in the tag team final in the next game. I had a complicated table, but I believed in my chances. »
Due to the cancellation of the 2020 season due to the pandemic, Diallo is eligible for two more seasons.
"I'm going to play NCAA next year for sure, but I don't know if I'm going to use my two years. My goal is to make the jump to the professionals. »
Beginning June 6, Diallo will play Future Series tournaments in the United States and Canada.
“Beyond the scholarships that we can collect, the most important thing is to collect ATP points and gain experience, indicated the one who trains under the leadership of Sam Aliassime when he is in Quebec. I'm going to be more comfortable when I start full-time in the pros. »
If some hesitate between the NCAA and the professional circuits, Diallo did not rack his brains for long.
"I was not ready to play for the pros," he said. I knew I would go to the NCAA, and it remained to be determined where. I've had tremendous progress since I've been at Lexington. Beyond the results, the coaches have the development of the players at heart and that is what makes the difference in my case. »
In Kentucky, Diallo is managed by Frenchman Cedric Kauffman who held three match points in a meeting against Peter Sampras at Roland-Garros in 2001 before losing. Former Wildcats, he was voted All American from 1996 to 1998.