Jan. 14, 2013
BY AMANDA PRUITT
The Australian Open, the "Happy Slam," is just underway and Tennessee tennis has much to be happy about because for the first time in 16 years, two former Vols will representing Rocky Top at Melbourne Park.
John-Patrick Smith and Rhyne Williams, top-ranked players in college tennis in 2010 and 2011, are both set to play in the singles main draw. Both are in the third quarter of the draw and start play Monday at 7 p.m. Eastern time.
Smith is also set to play doubles later this week.
To celebrate the start of the year's first Grand Slam, here are three facts about Tennessee tennis and the Australian Open:
1. TWO VOLS, ONE SLAMWilliams made history in August by becoming the first Vol in more than a decade to reach the main draw of a Grand Slam when he qualified for the US Open and eventually lost to Andy Roddick in what would be his final professional tournament.
One Grand Slam later, and the Vols have two representatives going in the main draw. Thanks to lucky scheduling, both players have morning matches so Tennessee viewers can follow along tonight.
Smith will play Joao Souza of Portugal on court 7 while Williams takes on 25th-seeded Florian Mayer of Germany. Neither court is being broadcast by ESPN3 but live scoring will be available at australianopen.com. If Smith wins his match, he is likely to play world No. 3 Andy Murray, a match that would certainly be televised.
Smith and world No. 100 Souza played just two weeks ago in final round qualifying at the ATP Sydney tournament with Souza winning 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. The rematch will feature a more well-rested Smith in a five-set format.
For Williams, a win over Mayer would be the first top-50 win in his career. The former Vol enters the weekend ranked No. 194 and will be playing in his third Tour-level event after qualifying for the US Open and Indian Wells last year.
Both former Vols received main draw wild cards to the Australian Open with Williams earning his by winning the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff in December.
It is not the first time two Vols have appeared in the main draw of a Grand Slam, but it has been a few years. The last time a Tennessee pair made the field of 128 was the 1997 Wimbledon, featuring 1990 All-American Doug Flach and NCAA singles champ and current coach Chris Woodruff (more on him later).
The record for the most Vols is four, set at the 1987 US Open. That tournament field included Paul Annacone, Mike DePalmer Jr., Mel Purcell and Shelby Cannon. A three-time All-American and doubles standout, Cannon received a wild card just as he was starting his senior season at UT.
Plus Two Coaches: More than two former Vols will be in action over the fortnight. Christopher Williams has been serving as cousin Rhyne's coach since last summer and has made the trip to Melbourne Park (you can follow him on Twitter @CpatWilliams). Christopher was a member of the 2009 and 2010 teams and was the volunteer assistant coach for the team in 2011 and 2012. Annacone will also return to the Grand Slam scene as all-time great Roger Federer's coach, a post the former Vol has held since 2010. (He's also on twitter @paul_annacone)
2. SMITH'S DEBUTIn the same way Williams made his Grand Slam debut at the U.S. Open last August, it is fitting that Smith will make his first major appearance at his home major.
Born and raised in Townsville, Australia, Smith received one of Tennis Australia's final discretionary wild cards for the tournament. Smith is back on the Australian tennis radar with his professional success since graduating from Tennessee in 2011 with a degree in economics.
He won his first singles Challenger title in 2012, climbed up to No. 210 in the singles rankings. In doubles, it comes as no surprise he's had great success there. He enters the Australian Open just knocking on the door at the top 100 -- at No. 101 -- and has won five Challenger-level titles with John Peers.
Smith played in all the Junior Grand Slams growing up and his most success came at Melbourne Park. He was a quarterfinalist in the junior tournament there in 2007.
For Tennessee fans, Smith practically wrote his own record book in wins and awards during his four years in Knoxville. He became the second player in college tennis history to earn All-American honors in singles and doubles all four years of his career while becoming the Vols' all-time leader in combined singles and doubles wins (298). At times, he held the No. 1 national ranking in both singles and doubles and became the first Vol since Peyton Manning in 1997 to be voted the SEC Athlete of the Year.
The Australian Connection: Smith is part of a long line of players from Australia to play and excel at Tennessee. The Vols have had at least one Aussie on the roster every year since 1988. Junior Jarryd Chaplin is the current Australia representative and enters the spring season ranked 21st nationally in doubles with Edward Jones. Five players from Australia have earned All-America honors at Tennessee.
3. WOODRUFF'S QUARTERFINALAssociate head coach Chris Woodruff, now in his 11th season with the Vols, enjoyed his best Grand Slam performance at the 2000 Australian Open.
Woodruff played at Melbourne Park just three times during his top-30 playing career, and his second visit became the most successful singles performance of any former Vol at a Grand Slam. He won four matches and played his way into the quarterfinals where he lost to American great and former world No. 1 Pete Sampras.
The highlight of Woodruff's run came in the fourth round, where he upset then 13th-ranked Tim Henman of Great Britain in five thrilling sets 7-5, 1-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in 3 hours, 46 minutes.
Woodruff, who was ranked as high as 29 in the world, reached the third round or better at Grand Slams seven times in his career.