May 26, 2011
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Every Tennessee Volunteer entered in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships remained in the national title hunt Thursday.
Senior John-Patrick Smith and sophomores Rhyne Williams and Tennys Sandgren all advanced to the round of 16 in singles, while top-seeded Smith and fellow senior Boris Conkic won their opening-round doubles match.
And they have done it all without dropping a set.
The Vols started the singles tournament Wednesday by taking three straight-set victories, including an upset by Sandgren over 13th-ranked Reid Carleton of Duke. All three picked up right where they left off in the second round.
Williams defeated Javier Garrapiz of Georgia for the third time in two months, this time by a quick score of 6-1, 6-1. Smith also advanced with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Virginia's Jarmere Jenkins.
Sandgren was the last to take the court Thursday against Texas' Kellen Damico, and after a few up and down few games, Sandgren took the first set in a tiebreaker 7-6 (5) and led 4-3 in the first set when Damico retired because of cramping.
By winning two matches to reach the NCAA round of 16, Sandgren earned All-America honors for the first time in his career. Smith and Williams, who were both seeded in the tournament, already qualified for the national honors. Conkic will be named All-America in doubles for the first time as well.
Tennessee had never boasted four All-America recipients in a season.
In doubles, Conkic and Smith started the tournament facing a tall task. Literally.
Their opponents, Matt Allare and Peter Kobelt of Ohio State both stand at 6-foot-7, so the Vols duo had to return strong serves throughout the match. Smith was broken to start the match, but he and Conkic evened the score a few games later.
The first set eventually moved into a tiebreaker, and Conkic and Smith fell behind 4-1. They came back with a few good returns and consistent serving to take the set 7-6 (5).
"The tiebreaker was really close," Conkic said. "We made one or two returns more than they did, and I think that won us the set."
In the second set, Conkic and Smith picked up steam and started to get better reads on Allare's and Kobelt's serves, breaking Ohio State's top pair twice on their way to a 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory.
Conkic said it took some time for them to adjust to the speed of the courts, since they had been practicing at a facility across campus the last few days. By the end of their opening match, however, he felt he and Smith were back on the same page.
"It was a little tough in the beginning, a little tight and stiff, I would say," Conkic said. "We got back in the second set, and I think tomorrow, we will be good to go."
In the round of 16, Williams faces the only seeded opponent left in his quarter of the draw: Georgia Tech's Guillermo Gomez, who is ranked 14th nationally.
Smith faces top-seeded Steve Johnson of Southern California, who was named most outstanding player of the NCAA Championships on Tuesday after leading the Trojans to their third consecutive title. Johnson has won both meetings against Smith the last two years, including a close 7-5, 6-4 match in the backdraw of the ITA All-American Championships.
Sandgren's quarter of the draw is interesting, simply because there are no seeded players left. The sophomore squares off against Pepperdine's Sebastian Fanselow, who upset No. 2-seeded Alex Domijan in the opening round.
Conkic and Smith play Georgia Tech's Kevin King and Juan Spir, who are ranked 14th nationally.
NCAA Singles Championships
(4) Rhyne Williams, UT, def. Javier Garrapiz, Georgia, 6-1,6-1
(9-16) John-Patrick Smith, UT, def. Jarmere Jenkins, Virginia, 6-3, 6-1
Tennys Sandgren, UT, def. Kellen Damico, Texas, 7-6, 4-3 ret.
(4) Rhyne Williams, UT, vs. (9-16) Guillermo Gomez, Georgia Tech
(9-16) John-Patrick Smith, UT, vs. (1) Steve Johnson, Southern California
Tennys Sandgren, UT, vs. Sebastian Fanselow, Pepperdine
NCAA Doubles Championships
(1) Boris Conkic/John-Patrick Smith, UT, def. Matt Allare/Peter Kobelt, Ohio State, 7-6, 6-2
(1) Boris Conkic/John-Patrick Smith, UT, vs. Kevin King/Juan Spir, Georgia Tech