Former Vol John-Patrick Smith recorded the first upset of the Australian Open Playoffs to advance to the quarterfinals and continue his quest for a Grand Slam wild card.
With a late break in the first set and a strong tiebreaker in the second, Smith ousted fourth-seeded and world No. 257 Chris Guccione 7-5, 7-6 (3) at Melbourne Park on Wednesday morning.
Smith now stands three matches away from earning a wild card into the Australian Open in January. He plays eighth-seeded Michael Look in the quarterfinals Friday.
Smith held his nerve facing break points while serving at 4-5 in the second set to eventually force a tiebreaker. From there, he laced several well-placed returns against Guccione, including a passing crosscourt winner to set up a match point opportunity at 6-3.
"He was serving bombs, and you know the main thing today was just to make a lot of returns and when the ball went in, to make sure he hit another volley," Smith told Tennis Australia on court after the match. "It was tough out there because the ball was bouncing pretty high and he gets a lot of movement off his serve. Just trying to take care of my service game and work on his."
Standing at 6-foot-7, the left-handed Guccione brought an obvious weapon to the match: his serve. Taking advantage of second serves, Smith was able to break Guccione twice in the first set, including a critical one at 5-5.
"You can't really let his serve get too high on you," said Smith, who is currently ranked No. 441 in the world. "It has so much spin that it's going to be a tough shot to play. I made sure to hit it waist high. Any higher and I would have been struggling."
In his first six months as a professional player, Smith is looking for his inaugural appearance in a Grand Slam, either in qualifying or the main draw. He reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open junior competition in 2007.
On the other side, Guccione was no newcomer when it comes to major tournaments. He has appeared in the main draw of every Grand Slam, including the Australian Open six times. He reached a career-high singles ranking of No. 67 in 2008.
"I have a lot of respect for Gooch," Smith said. "He's a Davis Cup player. He probably didn't have a great day today. It's just like tennis always. It's just one match, and I'm sure he'll be ready for the summer."
IN THE NEWS
Smith's upset of the former top 100 Guiccione has generated headlines in Australia on Wednesday, garnering attention from Australia's Davis Cup manager Todd Woodbridge, who told the wire service he would not be surprised to see the former Vol rise to the top 200 in the next six months.
34 days and I can't wait to see my vols in action. Though I will be stationed in the Republic of Korea, it is my hope that Slingbox will allow me to see each and every game (including pay per view). GO VOLS!!! We are on the rise again.