Nov. 6, 2010
FLUSHING, N.Y. -- Tennessee sophomore Rhyne Williams faced Florida's Alexandre Lacroix in a national tournament for the second time in a month Saturday.
The first meeting ended in heartbreak for Williams. The rematch finished in celebration and sealed a position in the finals for the Vol.
Williams earned breaks early in both sets and defeated Lacroix 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals of the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
"I'm really happy with the way I'm moving and the way I'm serving," Williams said. "Even my backhand's feeling great, and when that happens, I'm usually playing my best tennis. I'm just really happy to play four good matches in a row and just one more to go. Hopefully, I'll be ready to play."
He plays defending champion Steve Johnson of Southern California for the title. The match will start following the doubles match in the morning, and a live blog of the match will be available at UTSports.com.
In the consolation draw, senior John-Patrick Smith beat Virginia's Drew Courtney 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the quarterfinals. Smith then lost 6-3, 6-3 to Illinois' Dennis Nevolo in the semifinals later in the day. He finished the fall with a 12-6 record.
Lacroix, ranked ninth nationally, entered the day having won his only match played against Williams, and it was on the national stage. Williams had a chance for match point in the third set but lost 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (7) to Lacroix in a match that lasted three-and-a-half hours in the round of 16 at the ITA All-American Championships on Oct. 8.
The story was different Saturday, however.
Williams opened the match by breaking Lacroix' serve, but Florida's No. 1 immediately tied the match 1-1 with a break of his own. Williams broke Lacroix a second time at 1-1 and held the lead, taking the first set 6-4.
Williams broke Lacroix again at 1-1 in the second set. Williams struggled to hold serve in the final game but held off Lacroix' late rally to win the second set 6-4 to advance to the championship.
"I was really pleased with the way Rhyne was hitting his shots with such conviction, especially since he played Alex a few weeks ago at the All-America and lost a heartbreaker 7-6 in the third," Tennessee associate head coach Chris Woodruff said.
"We made some tactical adjustments. Rhyne hit his backhand a lot better than he did in Tulsa. He didn't hit nearly as many slices. We made it hard for Alex to find Rhyne's backhand today, which I think was key to the match."
Sunday's championship match is Williams' first appearance in a national individual collegiate final in singles or doubles. He reached the round of 16 at the NCAA Singles Championships last spring and did the same at the All-American last month.
"Playing for individual national titles is not really something I expected, but it's a goal of mine," Williams said. "It's more important to me to win a team event than an individual event, but I'll take it."
Williams, ranked No. 21 nationally, improved his fall record to 12-3.
Two Vols whose All-America careers are well-documented in Tennessee history have won the Intercollegiate Indoors: Mel Purcell in 1980 and Paul Annacone in 1984.
Until Williams' victory Saturday, no Vol had reached the championship of the Intercollegiate Indoors in 19 years. Williams was born the year Tennessee last reached the finals of the final fall tournament; Doug Flach was an unseeded finalist for the Vols in 1991.
USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships
Main Draw Singles
Rhyne Williams, UT, def. Alexandre Lacroix, Florida, 6-4, 6-4
Main Draw Singles
Rhyne Williams, UT, vs. Steve Johnson, Southern California, 11:30 a.m.