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ON TOUR: Williams Rolls to Start Maui Challenger

Former Vol Rhyne Williams returned to action Tuesday for the first time since narrowly missing his first win at the Australian Open, cruising through his first round at the $50,000 Maui Challenger. 

Williams defeated 2009 NCAA singles champion Devin Britton of Ole Miss 6-0, 6-1 to move on to the second round, where he will face a very familiar opponent: Tim Smyczek. The two played a memorable four-setter in December at the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff, with Williams winning to earn straight entry into the Australian Open. Smyczek went on to qualify for the main draw in Melbourne and won a match in the main draw.

Tennys Sandgren will be back on the courts Wednesday. He plays his first-round match against Blaz Rola, the current No. 1 for Ohio State who could well be in the top 300 professionally while competing in his junior year for the Buckeyes. Sandgren and Williams will also play doubles together.

John-Patrick Smith wrapped up his Australian Open stay last week by reaching the second round of doubles and losing a close one in the opening round of mixed doubles. He will start play next week at the $50,000 Burnie Challenger. 

Men's Tennis News Update (1/22/13)

The new ITA team rankings were released Tuesday, and the Vols (7-0) held steading at No. 19 after rolling off seven shutout victories against unranked opponents to start the year. New individual rankings will not come out until next month.

In other national news, TennisRecruiting.net released its national team signing class rankings of the new year Monday. The Vols signed five-star recruit Sean Karl of Brentwood, Tenn., and top-flight junior Markus Kerner of Tallinn, Estonia, during the early signing period, and that was more than enough to be listed at No. 10 nationally. The recruiting service also wished Karl a speedy recovery from cancer. Karl continues to undergo chemo treatments in his battle against Ewing sarcoma. 

Plus, some stories over the weekend from the Knoxville News Sentinel:

Williams Narrowly Misses Major Upset in Australia

Former Vol Rhyne Williams was knocking on the door of his first Grand Slam and top-50 victory but could not quite close the deal Tuesday at the Australian Open.

Williams held two match points in the fourth set but lost 2-6, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (12), 6-1 in the opening round to 25th-seeded Florian Mayer of Germany in the first round at Melbourne Park. 

In an epic 26-point tiebreaker in the fourth set, Williams created a pair of match points against Mayer but the veteran managed to get out of trouble and pulled away in the final set. It was Williams' first true five-set match. He had played a four setter against Tim Smyczek in December to win the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff.

John-Patrick Smith also played his opening round on Tuesday, losing to Portugal's Joao Sousa for the second time in two weeks. With the home crowd backing him, the Aussie wild card could not dig out of an early hole, losing 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.

Smith is still scheduled to play doubles this week with John Peers.

"It was a tough match ... it wasn't the game I wanted but it was still a great experience and something I can learn from," Smith told the AAP. "I didn't serve great but the good thing is I've still got doubles and mixed coming up so it's not the end of the world."

Happy Birthday - Jan. 11: Dixon, Malik Jackson, Reese

On Jan. 11, we wish Happy Birthday to senior runner Breon Dixon as well as sophomore tennis player Hunter Reese.

Breon Dixon  Hunter Reese

Also celebrating is former All-SEC Vols football defensive lineman Malik Jackson, who is prepping for his first NFL playoff game this weekend with the Denver Broncos. 

Australian Open Draw Released

Australian Open Singles Draw

Former Tennessee All-Americans Rhyne Williams and John-Patrick Smith learned their opponents for next week's Australian Open.

The draw was released Thursday evening (Wednesday in Melbourne, Australia). Both Vols received main draw wild cards and are in the third quarter of the 128-man tournament, meaning they should play their opening matches Tuesday. 

Williams, who got his wild card for winning the USTA Wild Card Playoff in December, takes on 25th-seeded Florian Mayer of Germany. Smith was added to the draw late last week by his home nation and takes on Portugal's Joao Souza in the first round. Smith lost to Souza in three sets in the final round of qualifying last week at the ATP event in Sydney. 

This will be Smith's Grand Slam singles debut, having played doubles in last year's Australian Open. It will be the first time multiple Tennessee players have been in a Grand Slam main draw since associate head coach Chris Woodruff and Doug Flach both played in the 1997 Wimbledon.

Tennys Sandgren plays the second round of Australian Open qualifying late tonight against Alex Bogomolov.

Sandgren Wins Opening Qualifying Match at Australian Open

Tennys Sandgren made his first step to join his teammates in the main draw of the Australian Open, winning his opening qualifying match 6-4, 6-4 Wednesday against Italy's Potito Starace at Melbourne Park. 

Sandgren now needs two wins to qualify for the main draw field of 128. He faces Russia's Alex Bogomolov Jr. next. 

Rhyne Williams and John-Patrick Smith, who received wild cards from the USTA and Tennis Australia respectively, are training in Melbourne to get ready for the first Grand Slam of 2013. It will be Smith's singles debut in a Grand Slam. Williams qualified for the US Open last year, so next week will mark his second major in his first trip Down Under.

The Pro Vols on Twitter:
Rhyne Williams: @RhyneWilliams
John-Patrick Smith: @jpatsmith
Tennys Sandgren: @TennysSandgren

Happy Birthday - Jan. 7: Fickey, Jeter, Stokes

Jan. 7 is a big day for birthdays among Tennessee student-athletes. Celebrating are tennis sophomore Brandon Fickey, senior volleyball player Kayla Jeter and basketball sophomore Jarnell Stokes.

Brandon Fickey  Kayla Jeter  Jarnell Stokes

Smith Receives Australian Open Wild Card

Former Vol John-Patrick Smith was given one of the final main draw wild cards to the Australian Open, Tennis Australia announced Saturday. 

Smith will make his Grand Slam singles debut at Melbourne Park, an appearance that will net him at least $27,000, more than half the prize money he made in all of 2012. Currently No. 244 in the ATP World Tour Rankings, Smith is coming off a season in which he captured to singles titles, including his first at the Challenger level.

Smith will join former teammate Rhyne Williams in the Australian Open field of 128. Williams, ranked No. 190, earned the USTA's wild card by winning an eight-man playoff in December. 

Tennys Sandgren is set to play qualifying singles at the Australian Open. The 2011 UT All-American was a semifinalist at the USTA playoff that Williams won.

Both Smith and Williams are currently in the third round of qualifying at the Apia International Sydney, an ATP 250 event. They each won two straight-set matches Saturday. 

ON TOUR: Smith Gets First Doubles Win in ATP Event

Former SEC Athlete of the Year John-Patrick Smith collected his first doubles victory in an ATP event Wednesday at the Brisbane International. 

Smith and frequent doubles partner John Peers were put in the draw as alternates and made the most of their opportunity, defeating Americans Brian Baker and Ryan Harrison 6-4, 6-4. The collegiate duo faces singles standouts Grigor Dimitrov and Kei Nishikori on Thursday.

Smith and Rhyne Williams both lost in the first round of singles qualifying late last week, but Smith and Peers stayed in Brisbane and got the nod to play doubles after the Czech Republic's Radek Stepanek had to withdraw because of an eye infection.

Williams will play qualifying at the ATP Sydney event this weekend.

The college tennis season is almost underway, with the Vols set to open the season at home Jan. 17 against Tennessee Tech. The ITA will release its first team rankings of the season, in addition to individual and regional rankings, on Thursday. Tennessee finished the 2012 season ranked 20th as a team and are returning all six starters in addition to adding senior John Collins and newcomers Bartosz Sawicki and Sebastian Yllera in January.

Smith Earns Spot in AO Playoff Semifinals

Tennis Australia: Smith through to play-off semifinals

Behind a solid returning performance on a hot afternoon, former Vol John-Patrick Smith advanced to the semifinals of the Australian Open Playoff in Melbourne Park.

Smith beat seventh-seeded Greg Jones 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 in Wednesday's quarterfinal to move just two matches away from securing a main draw wild card into his home Grand Slam. 

The match was closely contested, but Smith got the breaks when he needed them, serving out the victory on his first match point at 40-30. Jones was coming off a lengthy five-set win in his opening match, and that mileage started to play a factor as the match continued. 

"Coming in, I had to make a lot of returns on his serve," Smith told Tennis Australia's broadcasters after the match. "He has a big serve and probably hit a dozen aces. I haven't seen the stats. I just knew I had to make returns and had to get him moving."

Smith, seeded second, is the highest seed remaining in the tournament. In the semifinals, he will face the winner of the ongoing match between Matt Reid and junior champion Luke Saville.

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