April 20, 2013
OXFORD, Miss. -- The Tennessee Volunteers are back in the finals of the SEC Men's Tennis Tournament.
With closely contested play across the courts, the seventh-ranked Vols finished out a tight singles competition to beat No. 14 Florida 4-2 in the opening semifinal Saturday to return to the title match for the first time since winning in 2010.
The Vols (23-7) will take on either Georgia or Texas A&M on Sunday at 2 p.m. Eastern.
"It was a team effort," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "We had players fighting, one through six, three doubles teams. I think our team is very close. They care for each other and they will play for each other all day long. Today we did that."
Reese and Jones finished within seconds of each other. Reese held out a 7-6 (5), 6-3 win over Florent Diep. Then Jones capitalized on his sixth match point, breaking Billy Federhofer to win 7-5, 6-4.
"I'm just really proud," Winterobtham said. "They went for their shots there at the end. In that kind of atmosphere, to see a team doing that and being fearless is wonderful."
The Vols are now playing in the SEC finals for the eighth time since 1990. During Winterbotham's seven years at Tennessee, the Vols have now reached the title match three times. The Vols are going for their fourth SEC Tournament title, having won in 1990, 2002 and 2010.
Tennessee had lost to Florida 4-3 in the regular-season meeting between the schools in Knoxville. One difference maker in that match was the doubles point. The Gators won the point in their first meeting, but in the Saturday rematch, Tennessee jumped out strong on all three courts.
Jones and John Collins won their second match of the tournament, beating Gordon Watson and Billy Federhofer 8-3. Libietis and Reese, ranked third nationally, rolled their season record to 11-0 with an 8-4 win against No. 37 Stephane Piro and Bob van Overbeek to clinch the doubles point for UT.
In singles, both teams won three sets each. Florida tied the match at 1-1 when Watson beat Patrick 7-5, 6-1 on court 6.
The Vols extended their lead to 2-1 courtesy of Libietis' team-leading 35th singles win of the year. He overcame a rocky start to the second set to get his point on the board for UT, beating Piro at the top of the lineup 6-2, 6-4.
Florida eventually tied the match at 2-2 when van Overbeek picked up momentum in the third set to defeat Jarryd Chaplin 6-0, 4-6, 6-1.
At that point, only three matches remained: Reese on court 2, Collins on court 4 and Jones on court 5.
Collins faced the end of his match and trailed by two breaks of serve multiple times in the third set, but he battled back to stay on court to ease the pressure on Reese and Jones.
Reese won an up and down first set against Diep in a tiebreaker. In the second set, he broke late and served out the victory 7-6 (5), 6-4 to put the Vols up 3-2.
As Reese served his final game, Jones was getting some chances to finish on nearby court 5. Tennessee and Florida players filled the seating area between the two courts, waiting for the finish on one side or the other.
Returning against Federhofer, Jones finally ended the match on his sixth match point of the game. Jones broke Federhofer late in both sets to win 7-5, 6-4 and assure the Vols another trip to the SEC final. It is the second such destination for the senior Vol; he played doubles in Tennessee's 4-0 win over Florida in the 2010 final.
#7 Tennessee 4, #14 Florida 2
1. #3 Mikelis Libietis (UT) def. #68 Stephane Piro (UF) 6-2, 6-4
2. #34 Hunter Reese (UT) def. #88 Florent Diep (UF) 7-6 (7-5), 6-3
3. #113 Bob van Overbeek (UF) def. Jarryd Chaplin (UT) 6-0, 4-6, 6-1
4. John Collins (UT) vs. Michael Alford (UF) 6-3, 3-6, 3-5, unfinished
5. Ed Jones (UT) def. Billy Federhofer (UF) 7-5, 6-4
6. Gordon Watson (UF) def. Taylor Patrick (UT) 7-5, 6-1
1. #3 Mikelis Libietis/Hunter Reese (UT) def. #37 Stephane Piro/Bob van Overbeek (UF) 8-4
2. #47 John Collins/Ed Jones (UT) def. #40 Gordon Watson/Billy Federhofer (UF) 8-3
3. Michael Alford/Luke Johnson (UF) def. Taylor Patrick/Jarryd Chaplin (UT) 8-6
Order of finish: Doubles (3,2,1); Singles (1,6,3,2,5)