Sept. 19, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In front of family and friends watching him play for the first time in a year, freshman Sean Karl won his first two collegiate singles matches Thursday to open the SEC Fall Classic.
Karl earned a three-set victory in the morning and outlasted his opponent in straight sets in the early afternoon to join three teammates in the third round of the individual conference tournament. Juniors Hunter Reese and Brandon Fickey advanced, as did freshman Markus Kerner.
The Vols continue tournament action Friday morning with third- and fourth-round play. Live coverage will be at utsports.com.
Diagnosed with cancer less than a year ago, Karl played his first tournament last week at the Southern Intercollegiate Championships in Athens, Ga. He took another step forward on the tennis courts Thursday with his first two singles wins in the Tennessee orange and white uniform.
As a native of nearby Brentwood, Tenn., he had no shortage of supporters in the stands watching him play. For most of them, it was the first time they had send him compete since starting treatments last October.
"It was fun playing in front of them," Karl said. "I haven't been able to do that in a long time. I think it was fun for both me and them."
Karl had a long day of competition to make it to the first round. He was the only Vol not to get a bye into the second round. He started the day with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 win over Pen Binet of Vanderbilt and followed that with a long 6-3, 7-6 victory against Arkansas' Juan Marino.
"In my second match, I didn't think I could go quite as long," Karl said. "I was trying to finish up some points a little quicker, especially at the beginning. As the match went on, the points gradually got longer. Being ahead the whole match really helped me."
While he didn't log any singles wins in his career debut last week at the Southern Intercollegiates, Karl said the tournament helped him get back into the swing of things.
"Last weekend was definitely tough," Karl said. "It was the first weekend back. I wasn't match tough at all, and it really showed up in some of my matches. I still wouldn't call myself match tough yet, but being able to play those matches last weekend, I felt a lot more comfortable today. I felt like I was playing my game a little better."
In singles, the Vols enjoyed a largely successful opening day with four players reaching the round of 32.
Reese, the tournament's No. 3 seed, defeated Auburn's Dante Selah in one of the longest matches of the afternoon 7-6, 6-7, 6-2. Fickey, a 9-16 seed, broke serve at the end of his match beat Tito Moreiras of Texas A&M 7-6, 6-4. Playing his match indoors, Kerner recovered from a 6-game slide in the first set to beat Vanderbilt's Mason Vierra 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
In doubles, the Vols did not fare as well with their three new doubles pairings. All three teams lost their first matches.