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Williams Punches Ticket to NCAA Final
Rhyne Williams

Rhyne Williams
By Amanda Pruitt
UTSports.com

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- In the end, only one Tennessee Volunteer could advance to the final of the NCAA Singles Championships.

After a physical three-set match, that player was Rhyne Williams.

Williams will compete for his second national singles title of the year after defeating fellow Vol and roommate Tennys Sandgren 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 Sunday at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium.

Although the match between Vols was difficult with a national title just two wins away, the sentiment from both players was the same: either way, it is good to have Tennessee represented in the singles final for the second time in four years.

"Tennys has had a great tournament; I've had a great tournament," said Williams, who is the tournament's fourth seed. "It kind of stinks that one of us had to lose today, but it's nice to know that there will be a Vol in the finals."

Williams, a Knoxville native, faces top-ranked Steve Johnson of Southern California for the title in what will be a rematch of final of the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships in November, which Williams won 1-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Monday's championship match begins at noon Pacific (2 p.m. Eastern), and a live blog will be available at UTSports.com.

Johnson advanced to the final after his opponent, Michael Shabaz of Virginia, retired with Johnson leading 7-6, 4-2.

Five days ago, the likelihood of an all-Vol meeting seemed remote at best, considering defending champion Bradley Klahn of Stanford and multiple highly-ranked competitors resided in the same half of the 64-player draw. Yet, Williams and Sandgren never dropped a set as they rolled their way through the first four rounds and into the semifinals.

For Williams, reaching the semifinal took two victories over top-15 opponents, including Klahn in the quarterfinals. Sandgren had started the tournament with just one career win over top-50 opponents but added four more to his total in the first few rounds.

"When I first really looked at the draw, I saw we had a chance to play in the semis," said Sandgren, who started the tournament ranked 45th nationally. "I thought that's a long ways away, but it would be awesome. It would good for the school, and good for us, to know one of us would be in the final."

While Williams and Sandgren are close friends off the court and have roomed in the sam Palo Alto hotel room the last two weeks, Saturday's semifinal was an intense match, especially with the potential championship prize at stake. The winner of the NCAA tournament is typically granted a wild card into the US Open.

"We know once we're on the court, we have the freedom to play the match, to get fired up," Sandgren said. "We're not going to offend each other. We know that's part of the game. Both of us want to win it so badly, we're not going to take it personally at all."

The two Vols practice together nearly every day and have warmed up together an hour before each match this tournament, so there were no surprises on either end of the court. The first set featured long rallies and good execution by both Vols, but Williams got a break and held for a 6-3 win in a tiring first set.

"That first set took a lot out of both of us," Williams said. "We had some ridiculous, long rallies and it was very physical."

In the second set, Sandgren broke Williams early and eventually served for the set 6-3, gaining a number of points by playing up at the net.

"He gave me a little charity on his service game to get a break," Sandgren said. "You couldn't really see he was tired, except for some of the shots he was missing. I was feeling it too."

In the third set, Sandgren started committing more unforced errors, and Williams took advantage, eventually winning the match 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 to advance.

Sandgren finished his sophomore year with a 37-7 record and earned All-America honors with his tournament performance, while Williams marches on with a 42-9 record, having won his last nine matches.

Williams is 10-3 against top-10 opponents this year and was ranked No. 1 earlier in the spring. His meeting Monday against Johnson will be his first match against a current No. 1.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Vols have had representative in either the NCAA singles or doubles championship. A lot of that streak is thanks to senior John-Patrick Smith, who was a singles finalist in 2008 and reached the doubles final with Davey Sandgren, Tennys' older brother, the last two seasons.

Williams has hopes of joining associate head coach Chris Woodruff as Tennessee's second champion. Woodruff, a Knoxville native himself, won the tournament in 1993.

NCAA Singles Championships
Sunday's Results
Semifinals

(4) Rhyne Williams, UT, def. Tennys Sandgren, UT, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0
(1) Steve Johnson, USC, def. Michael Shabaz, Virginia, 7-6, 4-2 ret.
Monday's Schedule
Championship

(4) Rhyne Williams, UT, vs. (1) Steve Johnson, USC, noon Pacific (3 p.m. Eastern)

 

 

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