April 9, 2010
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Whether in singles or doubles, Tennessee senior Davey Sandgren was not going to be denied a win Friday.
That attitude kept the fourth-ranked Vols squarely in the hunt for the Southeastern Conference regular-season title.
In just his third singles match in two months, Sandgren clinched the match on court 6 as the Vols defeated sixth-ranked Florida 4-3 at Linder Stadium to remain perfect in the SEC.
The Vols (21-1, 9-0) collected the doubles point for the 21st time this year and found ways to win despite singles losses from their all-conference junior trio of John-Patrick Smith, Boris Conkic and Matteo Fago. Friday's singles wins came from one fifth-year senior and a pair of freshmen.
"The win was a tremendous team effort," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "To go Gainesville and beat Florida, it was a big statement for our team. Different guys have stepped up all year."
Freshmen Rhyne Williams and Tennys Sandgren delivered straight set victories, and Davey Sandgren provided the final blow for the Vols. He lost the first set 4-6 and bounced back to quickly win the second 6-3 to Nassim Slilam.
With a 5-4 lead in the third set and all the crowd's attention on his court, Sandgren won his match when Slilam's shot skipped wide left to give the Vols a 4-2 lead.
"I felt great support from my teammates," Sandgren said. "I felt like they were behind me -- even though they were up in the stands to the right. I played some good points there, and it was one of the best moments of my college tennis career so far."
Florida (15-3, 7-1) had won 10 consecutive matches and had been one of three undefeated teams left in the SEC. That number dwindled to two on Friday, as Georgia defeated South Carolina on the road to improve to 8-0 in conference. Tennessee and Georgia square off in Knoxville for the season finale April 17 at 3 p.m.
The Vols entered Friday after losing the doubles point for the first time all season against Mississippi State on Sunday. Williams and junior Boris Conkic quickly jumped out to a lead at No. 2 doubles against Florida's Sekou Bangoura Jr. and Joey Burkhardt thanks to a pair of early breaks, but Tennessee struggled on the other courts.
Something had to change.
"I'll take all the credit for being down 6-3," Sandgren said. "I played like trash going into it. JP stayed positive and helped me get through it, and we started playing well because we knew we had to win to get the doubles point. Rhyne and Boris were cruising, and Matteo and Ed were in a battle. We just dug through it and were able to win."
Sandgren and Smith ended up righting the ship in the second half of the match, reeling off five consecutive games to win the match 8-6. Conkic and Williams followed with a 8-3 victory over to clinch the doubles point for the Vols.
Fago and Jones lost 8-5 at court 3.
Tennessee came out with early breaks to start singles, but Florida came back to win four of six first sets. The Gators tied the match 1-1 when Joey Burkhardt defeated Conkic 7-5, 6-2 on court 2.
Williams rallied in the second set to defeat Benneteau 6-3, 7-5 on court 3 to give the Vols the lead once again at 2-1. Freshman Tennys Sandgren put the Vols ahead 3-1 with his ninth consecutive victory, beating fellow freshman Bob Van Overbeek 6-4, 6-4 on court 4.
Although they are freshmen by class, associate head coach Chris Woodruff said there is no doubt Williams and Sandgren have a great deal of experience in playing important points.
"Our freshman, well, they have a lot of experience," Woodruff said. "They've played all over the world and been part of a team environment before. Both of them seemed so tranquil out there today. They channeled their energy into the right moments and have really started showing maturity out there as the season has progressed."
Smith snapped his nine-match winning streak, losing 6-4, 7-6 (3) to seventh-ranked Alex Lacroix at the top of the lineup. Smith had not lost a match since the finals of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in mid-February. Lacroix' win for Florida cut the Vols lead to 3-2.
All focus then turned to Davey Sandgren and Slilam on court 6.
Sandgren said he struggled with shot execution in 4-6 loss in the first set. The shots started going his way after that point, however, and he took the second set 6-3. He served out to win third set 6-4 to clinch the victory for the Vols.
"I really want to enjoy every experience and opportunity I get to go out on the court, and winning is the best way I can think to do that," Sandgren said. "I just want to give it all I can, since it's my last semester."
The Gators' final point came on court 5 after the match had been decided. Fago lost in a tiebreaker 7-5, 4-6, 1-0 (8) to Bangoura, snapping a 10-match winning streak.
The Vols continue their SEC road trip with a match against South Carolina on Sunday. The match begins at 1 p.m., and a live, interactive blog will be available at UTSports.com.
1. #7 Alex Lecroix, UF, def. #2 John-Patrick Smith, UT, 6-4, 7-6 (3)
2. Joey Burkhardt, UF, def. #26 Boris Conkic, UT, 7-5, 6-2
3. #49 Rhyne Williams, UT, def. Antoine Benneteau, UF, 6-3, 7-5
4. #111 Tennys Sandgren, UT, def. Bob Van Overbeek, UF, 6-4, 6-4
5. Sekou Bangoura Jr., UF, def. Matteo Fago, UT, 7-5, 4-6, 1-0 (8)
6. Davey Sandgren, UT, def. Nassim Slilam, UF, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
1. #2 John-Patrick Smith/Davey Sandgren, UT, def. #12 Antoine Benneteau/Alex Lecroix, UF, 8-6
2. #4 Boris Conkic/Rhyne Williams, UT, def. #49 Sekou Bangoura Jr./Joey Burkhardt, UF, 8-3
3. Daniel Cash/Bob Van Overbeek, UF, def. Matteo Fago/Edward Jones, UT, 8-5
Order of Finish: Doubles (1,3,2); Singles (2,3,4,1,6,5).