May 25, 2009
College Station, Texas - Playing for the University of Tennessee's first NCAA Doubles Championship since Rodney Harmon and Mel Purcell captured the title in 1980, All-America's John-Patrick Smith and Davey Sandgren dropped a tough three-set match in the title contest at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center on the campus of Texas A&M.
As the only surviving seeded team, No. 2 Tennessee (32-12) fell to Virginia's 12th-ranked Dominic Inglot and Michael Shabaz, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4, suffering just their third loss in the last 15 matches. The Virginia duo was the 14th consecutive ranked opponent the Volunteers faced, including the ninth rated in the top 20 during that span. In addition, the 32 wins are the third most in a season by a Tennessee doubles team, while their 39 career victories rank sixth all-time in school history.
Inglot and Shabaz also won the only other meeting, 8-5, at the UVA 1-1 Ranked Tournament back in the opening weekend of the season back in September.
The match turned in the third game of the final set as Virginia got the second service break of the entire match. Both teams held serve in the previous 21 games until that point. With Sandgren serving at 1-1, the Cavalier team got three break points at 0-40. The Volunteers rebounded to win the next three points to get back to deuce, but the Cavaliers followed by winning the next two for their only break of the match and a 2-1 lead. The teams held serve over the next eight games to put the match on Shabaz's racquet at 5-4. In the final game, he hit two aces and two service winners to hold at love and clinch the championship.
"The play was tremendous," said Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham. "Our guys played great the entire tournament and even in the final. We have an expectation to be in the finals and we've done that the past two years, reaching the singles last year and doubles this time. Matches like this turn on a single point and that was the case today. Both teams really served well in the final two sets.
"Today was a tremendous tennis match. Virginia won it. Tennessee didn't lose it, Virginia just won it. You have to give Virginia all the credit in the world for that. I'm just so proud of what these guys have done, how they have competed today and how they have competed all year. They are champions."
Tennessee's duo, which dropped only one set entering the final, came out firing on all cylinders by forcing the only other break of the match in the second game of the first set. Trailing 40-0, the Vols stormed back with six straight points to break Inglot's serve and take a 2-0 lead.
Up 3-0, UT nearly got its second break in the fourth game as it led 30-0 before Virginia tied it 40-40. After going to deuce twice, the Cavs finally got on the board at 3-1.
With a 5-2 lead, the Vols nearly broke the Cavs again. After taking a 40-30 lead and getting the first advantage, Virginia forced deuce before winning the game.
An epic ninth game then ensued with Sandgren serving for set. The Vols fell behind 40-15 but were able to win next two points to tie 40-40. Virginia took the first advantage in the tiebreaker before the Vols rallied to take the first of two straight ads before clinching the set on a service ace up the centerline.
"We played a pretty amazing first set," said Sandgren. "We didn't make any mistakes. We made most of our returns. We played extremely well. Then in the second set, they served really well and it came down to a tiebreak. They missed one first serve in the tiebreaker. They served extremely well today, especially for an outdoors doubles match. They played a good game to break me in the third. We relied on our serves a lot in other matches, so we know how to handle the pressure when we serve. They came up big today."
The second set featured strong serving from both sides as neither team faced a break point and just one game went to deuce. The set went to a tiebreaker with the Volunteers looking for a title and the Cavaliers looking for a decisive third set. The Virginia team went up a mini-break a 2-1 when Smith's volley went into the net. That was all the Cavalier duo needed as they won all the points on their serve and won set point off of Sandgren's to take the tiebreaker 7-4.
"It was a good season for us," said Smith. "We were relatively new playing together in the fall. We built a lot, especially moving across, and we've become a force in the doubles lineup. Throughout the last part of the season, we just started to play great from the SEC tournament to the first and second rounds of the regional to the individuals here in doubles. We really have improved a lot and have a lot to be happy about."
After playing together sparingly last season, compiling a 7-3 mark, the duo didn't exactly start the fall season on fire, managing a 6-4 mark through three fall tournaments. Some intense workouts and practice sessions over the winter prepared them for the long season ahead.
"We knew going into the fall that we had to have a dominate No. 1 team and J.P. and Davey were that team," said Winterbotham. "We made a commitment to them and likewise, they made a commitment to themselves and the team."
It was winning the Southeastern Conference Coaches' Indoor Championships in January that proved they had something special. Having to win twice on the final day, they posted an 8-5 win over Florida's Antoine Benneteau and Joey Burkhardt and an 8-6 victory LSU's Neal Skupski and Michael Venus in the finals to win Tennessee's first indoors doubles title since 2002. Tennessee was a double winner in the tournament as Smith won the singles title the next day.
From that point on, Sandgren and Smith went on to win 22 of their next 29 matches, going 14-4 against ranked teams. They reeled of three five-match winning streaks, including a current streak that led to today's title.
"We believed that they were capable of being a great team and they proved it," said Winterbotham. "They spent many hours working together and got progressively better and better. It was nice to see them playing in the finals as a reward for their hard work. Tennessee wants more of these kind of guys who will come out every day and work to get better. (Tennessee Associate Head Coach) Chris (Woodruff) and I could not be more proud of how they represented our university."
Playing at the No. 1 position in dual match play, they went 18-7 and 6-2 in SEC play. The won all three doubles matches in the SEC Tournament, even notching a victory over the No. 1 doubles tandem of Jonas Berg and Bram ten Berge from Ole Miss, 8-5, in the dual match final of the tournament. They ended with a 15-9 record against ranked teams.
They debuted at No. 9 in the Campbell/Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings on March 3 and over the next five polling periods, it was a steady climb up the polls from eight to 7 to 5 to a season-high No. 3 entering the NCAA Tournament.
NCAA Doubles Championship Results
(Intercollegiate Tennis Association Rankings listed in parenthesis)
May 21 John-Patrick Smith/Davey Sandgren, UT (2) def. Jordan Rux/David Galic, Baylor (13) -- 6-4, 6-2
May 22 John-Patrick Smith/Davey Sandgren, UT (2) def. Kean Feeder/James Meredith, Boise State (43) -- 6-3, 7-5
May 23 John-Patrick Smith/Davey Sandgren, UT (2) def. Steve Forman/Cory Parr, Wake Forest (6) -- 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3
May 24 John-Patrick Smith/Davey Sandgren, UT (2) def. Alexey Tsyrenov/Tim Puetz, Auburn (10) - 6-4, 6-2
May 25 Dominic Inglot/Michael Shabaz, Virginia (12) def. John-Patrick Smith/Davey Sandgren, UT (2) - 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4