Jan. 11, 2012
This is the second 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 JOSH PATE
Ed Jones didn't learn his best tennis at a popular camp. He didn't pack up for another country when he learned to walk just to swing a racket with perfection. No exotic locations or freshly painted facilities.
Jones learned to play tennis in his barn.
"I grew up on a farm and basically, we had this barn which was not being used really. I would ride my bike around it," said Jones, who is from Carmarthen, Wales, and now a junior on Tennessee's tennis team. "My parents decided to put a tennis court in there. The tennis coach started coming to our house to coach my brother. I was about 6 or 7, running around and making a nuisance of myself while my brother was getting coached."
The coach suggested it was time to get young Ed into tennis, and so the lessons in the barn began.
"That was it basically," Jones said. "I learned in a barn. I spent quite a few hours in there."
Once Jones's friends heard about the barn, they joined in, too. His friends from around his hometown came over three or four times a week for sport sessions, where one coach mentored them in mini training sessions.
Don't, however, mistake the barn for Centre Court at Wimbledon.
"The roof is not very high so it's tough to lob, and also it's quite narrow so if you hit a good out-wide serve, it's pretty tough to get back," Jones said with a chuckle. "You might end up with your face in the concrete on the wall. But it's perfect for learning to play."
When Jones became a teenager, tennis got a little more serious. That's when the travel began.
"He grew up learning to play tennis, but once you get to a certain level, you need somebody else to hit with in that barn," said Tennessee tennis head coach Sam Winterbotham. "If there's no one there, then you're going to have to travel. I've talked to Ed on numerous occasions about the sacrifices he made. To go and play two hours of tennis, it would take him an hour and a half to two hours there and an hour and a half or two hours back on the train. He's made many sacrifices."
Jones attended the prestigious sports school Millifield, where he honed his game. He won a doubles event at Millfield and led his school to a third-place finish in National Schools. He also won two Great Britain ITF doubles events. He began playing in tournaments - and winning.
The elevation in his game garnered attention from universities in the United States. Jones chose Knoxville as his new home, and his family joined him for a last-minute vacation in the States before sending their son off to college.
Three years later, their barn-playing son is the veteran for the Vols.
Jones entered this season as the only returning starter on Tennessee's squad and was expected to be near the top of the UT lineup each match. Just last year he was getting used to holding a starting role deep in the singles lineup.
"I'm really impressed with how he's taken on the reins of this team this semester," Winterbotham said. "I really do feel like his confidence level has gone up. He had an incredible fall. It's a great evolution and something we're proud of. We like to see our guys develop. We try and develop champions; that's our motto. We're developing one right now."
Jones has the credentials, too. He is the last player who played in Tennessee's 2010 NCAA title match, having clinched the doubles point with former teammate Matteo Fago.
Now Jones is teaching the rest of Tennessee's young players how to deal with the environment of a dual match.
"Having such a young team, I'm trying to share my experience with them," Jones said. "We've got a couple of really enthusiastic freshmen and sophomores on the team. They come up to me sometimes and ask me about the dual matches and my experiences. In my experience, I'm trying to guide them in the right way so they can be ready for spring season."
Jones knows that educating young players new to the college environment is critical for success. Many of the players who come from outside of the United States are conditioned to tournament play, whereas the dual matches in college are more about building steam and supporting the team.
"You talk to them about stuff like momentum and how important it is to fight for every point because your teammates are watching you, whether they're on the court next to you or in the stands," Jones said. "The momentum changes during the dual matches so it's really important for as many matches as we can to get up because it gives off a positive attitude for the team."
The teacher in Jones also has been educating his family about dual matches. In the barn back home, it was mostly practice so the loud cheering that comes with college has yet to be fully experienced by Jones's parents. They've seen him play in tournaments around the United States and in Knoxville, but they haven't seen a Southeastern Conference match.
"They're really looking forward to coming out for a dual match because they follow the blog every time we have a match," Jones said. "The good thing about dual matches is the atmosphere and excitement, so they just want to experience it."
It's sort of like the old family barn. So many of the neighborhood kids just wanted to experience playing in the barn, practicing with their friends, learning the game they loved.
The barn still stands. Jones's parents use it, too, as some of their own friends come over each week for a doubles match. So as he makes memories at UT and his parents continue to extend the life of the barn, little can match the memories created by Jones from his childhood on that makeshift court.
"Yeah," Jones said, "good memories of that."