Jan. 25, 2013
URBANA, Ill. -- The 19th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers passed their first road test of the tennis season Friday and picked up their first top-20 win in the process.
The Vols held their nerve midway through a hard-fought singles contest to beat 16th-ranked Illinois 4-0 to open the two-day ITA Kick-Off Weekend at the Atkins Tennis Center.
The match was closer than the final score indicated with four singles matches going the full three sets. Tennessee (8-0) won the doubles point and then got victories from sophomore Brandon Fickey on court 4, sophomore Mikelis Libietis on court 1 and senior John Collins on court 5.
"The effort and hard work we've put in at the beginning of the season got us through that match," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "That's the baseline and that's great, but we haven't achieved anything yet."
The Vols look to achieve their most immediate goal Saturday: earning a trip into the ITA National Team Indoor Championships. Tennessee will take on North Carolina at 7 p.m. Eastern with the winner advancing to the 16-team national field in Seattle.
With a noisy crowd surrounding the doubles courts, Libietis and junior Jarryd Chaplin took control of the momentum at the top of the lineup. The Vols broke twice to beat Farris Gosea and Alex Jesse 8-4 on court 1.
The remaining matches were on serve late, but Collins and Edward Jones broke at 6-all on court 2 and served out an 8-6 victory to clinch the doubles point against Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski.
The singles matches were close across the courts, with both teams winning three first sets each. Three matches went to four sets with another possibly destined to go three.
Fickey was first off the court for the Vols in singles. He rallied back from a slow start in the second set to beat Farris Gosea 6-0, 7-5. He extended his winning streak to a career-best seven matches.
Libietis gave the Vols a 3-0 lead with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory over No. 114 Jared Hiltzik at the top of the lineup, good for his 20th win of the year. All the matches were winding down, but Collins got to the finish line first. He clinched the win and the team shutout by defeating Brian Page 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.
"This is a tough place to come play," Winterbotham said. "The crowd really gets into it. The indoor facility gets really really loud. Emotionally, it's really hard to maintain composure. What was really impressive to me was that on every court, when we got flustered, we recovered our composure. So we take that and move forward."
The win was the Vols' first top-20 win of the season. In fact, it was the Vols' first win over a ranked opponent. Tennessee is riding a program-record eight-match shutout streak.
Tennessee 4, Illinois 0
1. #9 Mikelis Libietis, UT, def. #114 Jared Hiltzik, ILL, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2
2. #40 Hunter Reese, UT, vs. Tim Kopinski, ILL, 4-6, 6-2, 0-3 uf.
3. Jarryd Chaplin, UT, vs. Bruno Abdelnour, ILL, 6-7 (6), 5-4 uf.
4. Brandon Fickey, UT, def. Farris Gosea, ILL, 6-0, 7-5
5. John Collins, UT, def. Brian Page, ILL, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1
6. Edward Jones, UT, vs. Ross Guignon, ILL, 7-5, 1-6, 2-1 uf.
1. #26 Libietis/Chaplin, UT, def. Alex Jesse/Gosea, ILL, 8-4
2. Jones/Collins, UT, def. Guignon/Kopinski, ILL, 8-6
3. Reese/Fickey, UT, vs. Hiltzik/Abdelnour, ILL, 6-6 uf.
Order of Play: Doubles (1,2); Singles (4,1,5).