Neal Skupski (left) was hit by Ulysses Blanch's first serve on Thursday night. (Ryan Loco)

White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.— On Thursday night, New York Empire came in against the top-ranked Philadelphia Freedoms one man down, and nearly made it two. Subbing in for Jack Sock, Ulises Blanch nailed his partner Neal Skupski in the ear on his first serve. 

"Fortunately it didn't hit Neal's face," New York coach Luke Jensen says. "He's the most beautiful man in WTT so we don't want to mess with his face, but it messed up his ear."

Jensen was almost more worried for himself than his player. 

"The first thing that comes to my mind is Jack is off, he's not allowed to play. I'm the only guy that's left," Jensen says. "I'm 54 years old. This body is made with pizza. I was not really fired up about teeing off an entire set against the Philadelphia Freedoms."

"When I got hit actually I was thinking that there's no chance that Luke wants to come in so I better try to soldier on," Skupski says. "I feel sorry for Ulysses because he hadn't played all season and he was excited to come in and play. I think it probably rocked him a little bit."

Ryan Loco

It was Blanch's very first match of the entire season, and he opened with a 5-1 loss to Taylor Fritz, followed by the errant doubles start. The 22-year-old and Skupski would fall 5-3 to Fabrice Martin and Taylor Fritz, and the Freedoms would win 23-17. 

The two rival teams will face off in the first playoff match on Saturday at 2 p.m., where Skupski will hope for better luck and a different team outcome. 

"I couldn't feel [my ear] for a couple of hours," Skupski says. "He got me pretty good, but these things happen in doubles and hopefully it doesn't happen to me again, especially this weekend." 

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