Jan. 16, 2011
After all, each has won more than 90 doubles matches as a Vol.
That maturity showed on the court Sunday when Conkic and Smith fell behind early but settled in for an 8-6 victory over the 11th-ranked Florida pair of Alexandre Lacroix and Nassim Slilam in the semifinals of the SEC Coaches Indoor Championships.
The Vol duo plays Georgia's Javier Garrapiz and Hernius Pieters, the No. 2-seeded team, in the championship match Monday at 10 a.m. at the Goodfriend Tennis Center on Tennessee's campus. The match is free to attend.
Smith will play for his second career SEC Indoors doubles title. His first came in 2009 as a sophomore with Davey Sandgren.
Smith had lost his semifinal singles match to Kentucky's top-seeded Eric Quigley less than an hour before returning to the courts to play for a spot in the doubles championship with Conkic.
Conkic and Smith fell behind 1-2 before winning the next three games against Lacroix and Slilam to take a 4-2 lead. Florida's team eventually broke Conkic's serve and eventually tied the match 4-4.
Both teams continued to hold serve after that point, and Smith's strong service game gave the Vols a 7-6 lead at the changeover. With Lacroix serving, Conkic forced the match point with a volley over the net at 30-30. Smith sealed the victory with a shot on the next point.
"We can always find a solution to get out of trouble," Conkic said. "We are very focused in key moments, and that helps a lot."
Conkic and Smith have played four matches together this spring, all of them wins. In the fall of 2009, they teamed up for the first time after a week's practice to become the second Tennessee team to ever win the ITA All-American Championships. They jumped all the way to fourth in the national rankings as a result, even though they played no more matches together as juniors.
Still, the two have played their share of matches together against top-flight opponents. Including Sunday's win, five of their nine victories have come against teams ranked in the top 20.
Experience counts, no matter the partner, Conkic said. He won 34 matches last year with sophomore Rhyne Williams. Smith, a two-time NCAA Doubles Finalist, has spent most of his career playing with former Vols Davey Sandgren and Kaden Hensel.
"Even before college, we played a lot of doubles," Conkic said. "Especially now in college, we've played 100-and-something matches in the last three years, so we're just improving every year, I think that's what makes us a good team now."
Smith started Sunday with hopes of also repeating his 2009 singles title, but he got off to a slow start and lost to Quigley 6-3, 7-5 in the semifinals. Earlier in the quarterfinals, the UT senior beat Florida's Sekou Bangoura Jr., the fifth seed in the tournament, 6-2, 6-1. Smith enters the dual match season with an 18-7 record.
The singles championship match pits Quigley against Wil Spencer of Georgia, who defeated teammate and No. 3 seed Javier Garrapiz 6-4, 6-1 in the semifinals. The final begins at 10 a.m.
Conkic was the lone Vol to win both his consolation matches, picking up straight set victories over Max Gregor of Mississippi State and Daniil Proskura of Alabama. Conkic had been the defending singles champion but was upset Friday by Georgia's Ignacio Taboada.
"I'm happy how I performed today -- It was much better than the first day," Conkic said. "I'm feeling much better. I hope I'll play better and better."
SEC Coaches Indoor Championships
Singles Main Draw
(1) Eric Quigley, UK, def. (8) Sadio Doumbia, UGA, 6-0, 6-2
(4) John-Patrick Smith, UT, def. (5) Sekou Bangoura, UF, 6-2, 6-1
(3) Javier Garrapiz, UGA, def. Alex Musialek, UK, 7-5, 6-4
(9-16) Wil Spencer, UGA, def. (2) Alexandre Lacroix, UF, 6-1, 6-3
(1) Eric Quigley, UK, def. (4) John-Patrick Smith, UT, 6-3, 7-5
(9-16) Wil Spencer, UGA, def. (3) Javier Garrapiz, UGA, 6-4, 6-1
Doubles Main Draw
(4) Boris Conkic/John-Patrick Smith, UT, def. (1) Alexandre Lacroix/Nassim Slilam, UF, 8-6
(2) Javier Garrapiz/Hernius Pieters, UGA, def. (3) Sadio Doumbia/Ignacio Taboada, UGA, 9-7