May 27, 2011
By Amanda Pruitt
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- With another round of straight-set victories, two Tennessee Volunteers advanced to the singles quarterfinals Friday at the NCAA Singles Championships.
Williams, the No. 4 seed, bested 14-ranked Guillermo Gomez of Georgia Tech 7-5, 6-4, and Sandgren beat Pepperdine's Sebastian Fanselow 6-4, 7-6 (4) in their round of 16 matches at the Taube Family Tennis Complex.
On Saturday, Williams faces defending tournament champion and hometown favorite Bradley Klahn of Stanford at 3 p.m. Eastern. Sandgren plays Mississippi's top player Marcel Thiemann at 4 p.m.
A live blog on UTSports.com will be available for both matches.
Among the excitement of the singles victories was also a solemn reality that two record-setting senior Vols ended their careers Friday afternoon.
The updated NCAA draws had a notable absence of one name: John-Patrick Smith. The four-time All-America senior who had never failed to reached an NCAA singles or doubles final every year of his career lost a heartbreaker in singles and fell behind too far to recover in doubles.
Smith had drawn top-seeded Steve Johnson of Southern California in the round of 16, which played out every bit like a championship bout instead. Smith, a former No. 1, proved every bit up to the challenge, even though Johnson hadn't dropped a set in 18 matches entering the day.
Johnson took the first set in a tiebreaker 7-6, and Smith answered by breaking Johnson and taking the second set 6-3.
Smith was up a break and serving at 4-3 when he struggled to get a first serve in play, and Johnson took advantage to break Smith and even the match 4-4. The third set went into a tiebreaker, and the top-ranked Trojan came away with the 7-6, 3-6, 7-6 victory.
In doubles later in the afternoon, Smith and Boris Conkic put together one of their most disappointing performances of the season. They lost the first set to Georgia Tech's Kevin King and Juan Spir 6-3, then fell behind 5-0 in the second set. Smith and Conkic, the top seeds, rallied to win four games in a row but could not complete the unlikely comeback, falling 6-3, 6-4.
For Williams and Sandgren, Friday was full of ups and downs as well but ultimately ended on the winning side.
Sandgren was the first to take the court following Smith's loss to Johnson and broke Fanselow late to take the first set 6-4. He broke Pepperdine's ace late in the second set and served at 5-4 for the match, up 40-0 when he lost five points in a row and was broken.
Fanselow, who upset second-seeded Alex Domijan in the first round, forced a second-set tiebreaker, but Sandgren refocused and won the tiebreaker 7-4 to advance, improving to 36-6 this season.
"I hadn't really hit a whole lot of winners the whole match," Sandgren said. "I was kind of counterpunching, making him make the mistakes. I was running a lot. It's hard to close out the match when you're playing like that and not making first serves.
"It puts a lot more pressure on me to close it out, when I'm not closing out anything. He was in control and stepped up his game."
All told, not a bad first national collegiate tournament appearance for Sandgren. While he had played in countless national -- and sometimes international -- tournaments as a junior player, he had never qualified for the main draw of a college event.
He entered the tournament ranked 45th and has since defeated three ranked opponents, including two in the top 30. Reid Carlton of Duke, Sandgren's opponent in the first round, was ranked 13th.
"I wanted to just get some good experience here," Sandgren said. "I wasn't expecting to do too well. I still thought I could win some matches. It feels good to be in the quarterfinals, and I'm taking one step at a time."
Williams faced his first seeded opponent in Gomez, one of the top singles players from the Atlantic Coast Conference. He took the lead early and served for the first set at 5-4 but Gomez broke back to extend the set, but Williams immediate broke Gomez again and eventually took the first set 7-5.
The second set featured far fewer theatrics for Williams. The Knoxville native took an early lead and held for the 7-5, 6-4 victory, good for his 40th win of the season.
Williams' quarterfinal matchup against Klahn has every making of a good one, even though the two players have not faced each other in six years. Klahn is the defending champion of this event and the hometown player, but Williams is the most recent college national champion, having captured the singles title at the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships in November.
Williams had to beat the defending champion to win the national indoor title as well, defeating Johnson in three sets in the final.
NCAA Singles Championships
Round of 16
(4) Rhyne Williams, UT, def. (9-16) Guillermo Gomez, Georgia Tech, 7-5, 6-4
Tennys Sandgren, UT, def. Sebastian Fanselow, Pepperdine, 6-4, 7-6 (4)
(1) Steve Johnson, Southern California, def. (9-16) John-Patrick Smith, UT, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 7-6 (2)
Saturday's Schedule (all times Eastern)
(4) Rhyne Williams, UT, vs. (9-16) Bradley Klahn, Stanford, 3 p.m.
Tennys Sandgren, UT, vs. Marcel Thiemann, Mississippi, 4 p.m.
NCAA Doubles Championships
Round of 16
Kevin King/Juan Spir, Georgia Tech, def. (1) Boris Conkic/John-Patrick Smith, UT, 6-3, 6-4