Sept. 13, 2003
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - After two days of competition at the Air Force Academy Fall Invitational, Tennessee sophomore Rawl Martin has yet to be seriously challenged, surrendering only seven games while going undefeated through his first three matches. Vol Junior Mark Dietrich and freshman Johnny Thornton both suffered singles losses Saturday.
Martin couldn't have asked for a better start to his second season on Rocky Top. The Memphis native has kept opponents at bay this weekend with his powerful topspin forehands, relentless energy and sense of confidence. His most recent victim was Air Force junior Chris Dong, who fell 6-0, 6-2 Saturday morning.
"Rawl has worked hard on his game and his fitness since arriving at UT a year ago," Tennessee head coach Michael Fancutt said. "With all the hard work that he's been putting in, he seems to have improved his strength and his consistency. He's playing well at the moment and I think he has a good chance of going undefeated through the tournament."
Martin, who saw action in nearly all of Tennessee's dual matches as a true freshman last season, cited the experience he gained by playing in the nation's top tennis conference as the main factor in his success.
"I think the experience I gained last year by being able to play as a freshman helped me," Martin said. "I think it has sort of given me an edge over the rest of the guys I've been playing so far. Competing in a league like the SEC throughout last year has helped, and I think it's really paying off."
And while players from Air Force and Denver University are familiar with the respiratory demands of competing high in the Rocky Mountains, Martin-born and raised in Tennessee-has had little difficulty adjusting to the severe altitude.
"I'm actually liking it," Martin said. "The ball is jumping up a lot more and it's helping me with my kick-serve. It took a little while to get used to, but I think the altitude is actually helping me now."
Martin faces experienced Air Force senior Justin Mancinelli Sunday.
The marquee matchup of the day featured two netter's currently ranked in the top-50 in the ITA preseason singles rankings, No. 37-ranked Dietrich and No. 45-ranked Air Force sophomore Shannon Buck. Dietrich faced the tall task of playing the Falcons' top player, on the Falcons' home courts, at altitude. The hard-serving Vol kept things close in the first set, but was eventually defeated by a score of 6-4, 6-3.
"We need to look for more consistency from the leaders of our team-like Mark Dietrich-from day to day," Fancutt said. "I felt Mark competed as well as I've seen him compete [on Friday], but I was a little disappointed with his match [Saturday]."
Thornton also struggled Saturday as he continued to adjust to the highly-competitive level of Division I college tennis. In only his third collegiate match, the former Chattanooga prep standout lost to Denver sophomore Viktor Zetterholm 7-6(1), 6-1. Though Thornton is still searching for his first win as a Volunteer, he will no doubt benefit from the valuable experience he continues to gain throughout the fall.
This weekend's round-robin event has adopted a match format slightly different from traditional NCAA procedure. Singles matches consist of two complete sets, with a 10-point tiebreaker serving as the third set if necessary. Doubles contests are played under an eight-game pro set format. Matches are played indoors at the Cadet Gymnasium Tennis Courts and outdoors at the Air Force Academy Tennis Courts. The Air Force Academy Fall Invitational concludes Sunday.