Jan. 10, 2012
This is the first of a 10-part series looking at each member of the Vols' 2012 roster leading up to the start of the season Jan. 20 with a home double header against Memphis and Eastern Kentucky beginning at 1 p.m. All 10 feature stories will be part of the 2012 media guide.
BY MATT MAGILL
Just two days before his flight left to join his teammates in Hawaii, Jarryd Chaplin still hadn't received his visa to come play tennis in America.
But Chaplin had his flight booked and bags packed and held on to hope that it would come in time.
"It was just a rat race, trying to get everything ready," Chaplin said. "You definitely have doubts whether you'll get it in time. I told (coach Sam Winterbotham) before, if you want something that bad, you'll do anything to get it. I did my best to get there."
Chaplin wasn't just desperate to get to Hawaii for the sunshine and the tennis, but because he recognized the importance of the trip for the team. His first two trips--to Hawaii for the Rainbow Warrior Challenge and to Seattle for the National Indoor Championships--were anything but vacations.
"The one thing that I was really worried about was making the Hawaii trip," Chaplin said. "I knew that was going to be a bonding experience for all of us. That was my best chance to get in the group. I was just learning. It was my first time with the team and with the coaches. Then Seattle came by and I was extremely nervous my first match. I didn't perform--anyone will tell you that. From then on, I won a lot of important doubles matches with Rhyne Williams. That really set me up to kind of feel like I fit in as well."
Fitting in certainly wasn't a problem for Chaplin after the Vols' trip to the National Indoor Championships.
In Seattle, with teammate Tennys Sandgren out with illness, Chaplin was forced to play much sooner than he or the coaching staff had expected. But by overcoming his initial nervousness and winning a few matches along the way, Chaplin established himself as what the coaching staff hoped the midseason signee would be--an instant contributor.
And while winning matches certainly doesn't hurt, Chaplin also won the team over with his outgoing and sometimes zany personality.
"I was trying to make myself comfortable with everyone on the team and I certainly feel that way, especially with the guys right now," Chaplin said. "We have a lot of personalities but everyone gels really well so that makes working on tennis easier. Everyone wants the best for everyone and personally I'd say my personality suits that a lot."
With his whirlwind entrance behind him, Chaplin settled in to America and college tennis well, posting a respectable 8-8 singles record and 7-4 doubles record in the spring season.
With his first season behind him and every spot in the lineup up for grabs, the player formerly known as the "Freshman Aussie" knew he had a lot to improve upon. Armed with more dual match experience than everyone else and heaps of raw talent, Chaplin set out to work on every aspect of his game this offseason.
"My experience will help a lot more so because of how many freshmen we have," Chaplin said. "In an unusual situation, I'm going in as one of the more experienced players in my third semester. That's going to help me a lot. I know the faces and how dual matches work, so that's going help a bunch, knowing how the momentum goes especially in a match like that."
"Coming from trying to break through on the futures pro circuit level to college tennis is a bit different: in emotions, in the importance of every match. I've improved my understanding, my ground strokes, my leadership skills and my service got a lot better,
"I think understanding college tennis has helped me improve mentally. I just needed to take a step back and understand what it was all about. When I go on the court, I know what I need to do. I'm much more focused on the match than the surroundings like the crowd. I've gotten more mature. It comes with realizing that I'm not the freshman anymore. I need to prepare everyone for what the spring is like; they haven't seen that before."
Though he's just in his third semester, Chaplin has logged the second-most singles dual matches on the team, second only to Edward Jones. As a veteran compared to his freshman counterparts, Chaplin will need to fill a leadership role, something he admits he's grown into over the past few months.
"Sam always says there's two kinds of leader: vocal and someone who leads by example. I think there's been a bunch of guys take leadership roles, not necessarily...we've had freshmen take leadership roles as well, which has been fantastic. I certainly feel I've taken a role vocally and by example and I'm happy with that. I don't feel like there's any pressure, I feel that I'm halfway there already with the way I am, being vocal and that stuff.
"Everyone wants the same thing on our team, which makes being a leader a lot easier. I just want to make sure that everyone else wants it as bad as I want it. It's a discussion Sam and I have had more than once. I definitely take pride in that. It's a compliment. There's always one or two leaders on a team and I feel like I've established that for myself."