Jan. 25, 2014
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The sixth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers opened the ITA Kick-Off Weekend with a 4-1 victory over Michigan State on Saturday at Goodfriend Tennis Center.
The Vols (5-0) will play VCU on Sunday at 2 p.m. in the final of the two-day event. The winner advances to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships next month.
Tennessee clinched the doubles point on near simultaneous aces by junior Mikelis Libietis on court 1 and junior Andrew Dromsky on court 3. In singles, freshman Markus Kerner dropped just two games on his way to victory on court 6, and Libietis picked up a straight-set win to put the Vols ahead 3-0.
Junior Hunter Reese clinched the match with a 6-3, 6-5 (5) victory on court 2.
Now the Vols have an opportunity to qualify for the 16-team ITA National Team Indoor Championships for the sixth consecutive season.
Tennessee swung the momentum in its favor with performance of its new doubles team of Dromsky and Kerner on court 3. Libietis served out the 6-3 win on court 1, and Dromsky followed suit a second later with an ace to secure a 6-4 win and the doubles point.
In singles, Kerner paced the Vols on court. He was on and off court 6 quickly with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Mac Roy, good for his 10th victory of the season.
Libietis came out playing his best tennis of the spring. After picking up a rare loss last week at No. 2 singles against ETSU, the Vols' ace pulled away from Aaron Pfister for a 6-4, 6-1 victory on court 1.
"Mikelis know what he means to this program; he know what the coaches and his teammates expect of him," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "Today was quite honestly par for the course. ... When you have that kind of attention on you, people look around and wonder `what's going on?' He's still a young kid who's still growing, still maturing. I thought today was a great performance by him because he knew he needed to be better."
Libietis hit 11 aces in the match.
"I've been trying all week in practices to get my momentum back," Libietis said. "My serve was there, and that helps me a lot."
After Libietis' victory, junior Brandon Fickey lost his first full match back in action 6-1, 6-3 to John Patrick Mullane on court 3. Play on the remaining three matches was close.
Chaplin and Dromsky both split sets with their opponents on courts 4 and 5 when Reese had a chance to put the match away. An up-and-down second set went into a tiebreaker and Reese won a double fault by Lied to record his team-leading 16th victory of the season.
With a team a near-even mix of returners and newcomers, Winterbotham said the team as a whole is still working on defining its on-court identity for the season.
"Our identity the last seven years of our program is that we have players go out and give everything they have and leave it all out on the court," Winterbotham said. "There's no drama. They fight for every point. ... We're not there right now. Do I expect us to be there right now? Probably not, but but I would like to see more consistency from top to bottom."
#6 Tennessee 4, Michigan State 1
1. #34 Mikelis Libietis (UT) def. Aaron Pfister (MISU) 6-4, 6-1
2. #16 Hunter Reese (UT) def. Drew Lied (MISU) 6-3, 5-5 (7-5)
3. John Patrick Mullane (MISU) def. Brandon Fickey (UT) 6-1, 6-3
4. Jarryd Chaplin (UT) vs. Gijs Linders (MISU) 1-6, 6-0, 5-4, unfinished
5. Andrew Dromsky (UT) vs. Brett Forman (MISU) 6-2, 3-6, 5-1, unfinished
6. Markus Kerner (UT) def. Mac Roy (MISU) 6-1, 6-1
1. #1 Mikelis Libietis/Hunter Reese (UT) def. Gijs Linders/Harry Jadun (MISU) 6-3
2. #28 Jarryd Chaplin/Brandon Fickey (UT) vs. John Patrick Mullane/Drew Lied (MISU) 3-5, unfinished
3. Andrew Dromsky/Markus Kerner (UT) def. Brett Forman/Aaron Pfister (MISU) 6-4
Order of finish: Doubles (1,3); Singles (6,1,3,2)