Sept. 14, 2003
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - If there was one thing Tennessee's head men's tennis coach Michael Fancutt learned this past weekend at the Air Force Academy Fall Invitational, it was the pleasant fact that Rawl Martin can handle a challenge. The relentless sophomore overcame difficult playing conditions high in the Rocky Mountain air and defeated four experienced opponents, bringing his overall season singles record to a perfect 4-0.
Martin put an exclamation point on a strong weekend of tennis by toppling Air Force senior Justin Mancinelli 6-4, 6-2 Sunday.
Adding even more luster to the Memphis native's three-day performance is the fact that his four opponents combined to win only 13 games. Of course, Martin's success didn't come as a total surprise to his head coach. Fancutt predicted on Saturday night that the second-year netter had a good chance to go undefeated through the event, crediting Martin's dramatic improvements in off-season strength and conditioning.
"Rawl has worked hard on his game and has gained valuable experience from last year," Fancutt said. "We're very pleased with his play in the first tournament of the year."
Tennessee junior Mark Dietrich also recorded a singles victory Sunday, bringing his weekend record to 3-1. Dietrich bounced back from a Saturday loss and defeated Air Force sophomore Trevor Johnson 6-3, 2-6, 10-5.
Vol newcomer Johnny Thornton lost his first singles contest Sunday. Playing in his second tiebreaker in as many days, the true freshman emerged victorious to capture the first set against Denver junior Jason Tan. But the Pioneer upperclassman used his experience to battle back and win the match by a score of 6-7(6), 6-2, 10-8. Thornton then rallied to record his first collegiate victory, defeating over Air Force freshman Justin Lau 6-2, 6-4 to end his debut event on a winning note.
"Johnny deserved his first win as a Vol, as he played better and better each match of the tournament," Fancutt said. "I think he'll continue to do that as the year goes on.
The Air Force Academy Fall Invitational was a round-robin event that was contested using altered match formats that differed slightly from traditional NCAA scoring procedure. Singles matches consisted of two complete sets, with a 10-point tiebreaker serving as the third set if necessary. Doubles contests were played under an eight-game pro set format. Matches were played indoors at the Cadet Gymnasium Tennis Courts and outdoors at the Air Force Academy Tennis Courts.
Martin and Air Force standout Shannon Buck, the No. 45-ranked collegian in the nation, were the only competitors to go undefeated in singles over the weekend.
Dietrich, ranked No. 37 in the ITA preseason singles rankings, now travels to Costa Mesa, Calif., for this week's Diadora Pro-Championships, a USTA Professional Futures Circuit event. The rest of the Vol netters will be back in action Sept. 25-28, at the adidas Invitational in Peachtree City, Ga.