Feb. 18, 2011
SEATTLE -- After the doubles point was decided by a tiebreaker, Friday's tournament-opening contest between Tennessee and Georgia had all the makings of a classic match between Southeastern Conference opponents.
That billing did not disappoint.
In a hard-fought match that lasted more than four hours, the Vols' three seniors led the way to a 4-2 victory over Georgia in the first round of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships at the Nordstrom Tennis Center.
Three of the six singles matches lapsed into third sets, and senior Matteo Fago rallied from behind in the final frame to defeat 31st-ranked Sadio Doumbia 2-6, 7-5, 7-6 (1) to clinch the Tennessee's win on court 3.
"I love the SEC, just love it," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "It's so competitive. Teams have such great rivalries. If you can't get up to play, regardless of who it is, you don't deserve to wear these uniforms.
"I thought Georgia fought really hard. They played really well. And I'm proud that our guys remained focused."
The third-seeded Vols (7-0) face UCLA in the quarterfinals at 9 a.m. Pacific time on Washington's home courts. A live blog of the action will be available at UTSports.com.
Friday's match between Tennessee and Georgia was the only in-conference match in the opening round of the tournament and marked the first time the schools had faced each other on neutral courts in a decade.
When Tennessee last faced Georgia (5-3), it was in the semifinals of the 2010 NCAA Championships, and the doubles point was decided with a tiebreaker on the final court. At the National Indoors, the story was just the same.
Fago and sophomore Edward Jones started off down 4-1 on court 3 but won the next seven games to secure an 8-4 victory over 37th-ranked Drake Bernstein and Wil Spencer, their 10th consecutive win as a pairing. Georgia tied up the doubles contest when the 41st-ranked team of Doumbia and Ignacio Taboada broke serve at the end to earn an 8-6 victory against sophomores Rhyne Williams and Tennys Sandgren.
Everything came down to court 1, which featured a finals rematch of the SEC Indoor Championships. Seniors Boris Conkic and John-Patrick Smith had lost that championship match to Javier Garrapiz and Hernus Pieters 8-5, but the second contest between the teams went into a tiebreaker.
Conkic was on form throughout match and hit a few backhand winners to give the Vols the edge early in the tiebreaker. He and Smith led from there, securing the doubles point for the Vols with a 9-8 (2) victory.
"When we needed someone to step up in doubles, Boris and JP did just that in the tiebreaker," Winterbotham said. "For Boris, it's one of the few times I have seen somebody individually dominate a breaker in such a crucial situation."
In singles, the Vols faced the challenge of playing without Sandgren in the lineup. The sophomore from Gallatin, who has been undefeated at the No. 3 position this season, was scratched because of illness. Fago stepped into Sandgren's spot, followed by Conkic at 4 and Jones at 5.
Freshman Jarryd Chaplin had to make his debut in UT's lineup on court 6, where he lost to Pieters 6-1, 6-4 to tie the match 1-1.
Conkic gave the Vols the lead at 2-1 with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Drake Bernstein, but Georgia tied the match at 2-2 when Taboada broke Jones late in the second set to win 6-4, 7-5 on court 5.
Smith on court 2 and Fago on court 3 had both lost their first sets, but the two seniors did not flinch. Smith, ranked 17th, was down a break in the second set but stormed back to beat 12th-ranked Spencer 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 to give the Vols a 3-2 lead.
Fago, playing in the top half of the lineup for the first time since his sophomore season, lost the first set 6-2 to Doumbia on court 3. Fago rallied to take the second set 7-5 but faced a match point in the third set while serving at 5-4. The senior was able to hold on and eventually force a tiebreaker, winning it 7-2 to send to the Vols to the quarterfinals.
"I thought it was a really good day for us because we all worked together and tried our best," Fago said. "It felt good to be part of this win and we all did whatever it took.
"I was just trying to find a way to get back into it. My opponent was playing really well and I had to adjust my game a little. In the end, it worked out."
With the win, Fago improved to 20-5 this season, including 7-1 against ranked opponents.
"There's no quit in Matteo," Winterbotham said. "That's why our team is as good as it is. It's because our leaders don't quit. JP had a really tough match. Matteo had a tough match too. They didn't quit. They stayed in until the last point was over. Those guys understand how important that is to the program. That's the University of Tennessee."
Williams, the nation's top-ranked singles player, was leading 3-2 in the third set against Garrapiz on court 1 when Fago clinched the match.
"Rhyne's match was going well and that helped me stay focused on my court," Fago said. "The fact that Rhyne was up a break helped me play looser, rather than if it was three-all."
Tennessee 4, Georgia 2
1. #1 Rhyne Williams (UT) vs. #24 Javier Garrapiz (UGA), 6-7 , 3-2 DNF
2. #17 John-Patrick Smith (UT) def. #12 Wil Spencer (UGA), 3-6, 7-5, 6-1
3. #68 Matteo Fago (UT) vs. #31 Sadio Doumbia (UGA), 2-6, 7-5, 7-6 
4. #119 Boris Conkic (UT) def. Drake Bernstein (UGA), 6-2, 6-4
5. Ignacio Taboada (UGA) def. Edward Jones (UT), 6-4, 7-5
6. Hernus Pieters (UGA) def. Jaryd Chaplin (UT), 6-1, 6-4
1. #8 Smith/Conkic (UT) def. #12 Garrapiz/Pieters (UGA), 9-8 
2. #41 Doumbia/Taboada (UGA) def. Sandgren/Williams (UT), 8-6
3. Jones/Fago (UT) def. #37 Bernstein/Spencer (UGA), 8-4
Order of Finish: Doubles (3,2,1); Singles (6,4,5,2,3).