Feb. 2, 2012
BY MATT MAGILL
Hunter Reese has played just five dual matches in his young college career, but he's already been on the deciding court twice with the team score tied 3-3.
Although Reese lost in his first chance to clinch the team victory against Memphis in the home opener, he more than redeemed himself on Monday against traditional SEC rival Mississippi. Reese rallied after a slow start to beat 98th-ranked Jonas Lutjen 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 on court 3 to secure the Vols' 4-3 victory and assure the team a place at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships.
The redshirt freshman from Kennesaw, Ga., and the Vols still have two key matches to go before the team packs up for the national tournament in Charlottesville, Va. Tennessee hosts No. 19 Illinois on Sunday at 1 p.m. No. 10 Duke comes to Knoxville on Feb. 11.
Reese talks the clinching victory against Mississippi, introducing teammates to his namesake candy and ping-pong rivalries in this week's Q&A.
Q: You guys got a big win on Monday over Mississippi. What was it like to get the clinching victory?
A: That was awesome, especially after losing that Memphis match. To bounce back and get that win Monday against Ole Miss, that was great to get my confidence back and to get that confidence to when the match comes down to me, I have no problem with that or even want to be that guy. Especially for the team to bounce back after Ed's injury against an SEC team, it's huge. It's our first taste of what the season is going to be like. It was a good effort and everybody's pretty pumped about that.
Q: Did you learn from that Memphis match?
A: That was awful. After that match, I was pretty mad. I learned. I made a promise that I'll do everything in my power to never be that guy again that doesn't clinch. I definitely told myself, "don't let that happen again. Learn from it and move on." I was able to do that against Ole Miss.
Q: Do you like everyone watching just your match and it all coming down to you?
A: I love it. My whole life I've loved playing for anyone who wants to come watch me. In college, we get a crowd that comes out and they're focused on all the courts, but once you're that last match, they're all focused on you. That's a cool feeling to know that everybody wants you to win and everyone's on your side. I know that will be different on the road, but I love being the last match and having everyone on my court.
Q: What adjustments did you make on Monday that you improved so dramatically from sets 1 to sets 2 and 3?
A: Sam changed a couple of little things about my court positioning and he wanted me to take something off of my first serve and make a lot of first serves. In the first, I was going for some big first serves and missed them and started on second serve. The guy I played was just teeing off; he play a very good first set. Sam talked about moving up in the court and not giving anything away. And I just had to keep fighting. He came out guns blazing in the first and hitting winners all over the place. I had to weather the storm and I'd get my chance when it came. Sam had all the confidence in the world that I would be able to take advantage of it and I did.
Q: How big is it for the team to win the regional and move on to National Indoors?
A: That's really big; everyone's pumped. Before the season started, we made a list of goals and that was one of them. The opening weekend was a big one for us, and we didn't get that. We learned from it and this was our next big test. For us to get through it and prove to everyone that we're still in the running for a national championship, it's big for us. Everyone there is good, but we're going to be there fighting for every point and we're looking to upset some people. It will be a fun time in Virginia.
Q: Can you explain the "Rock and Hammer" name that you and Mikelis Libietis earned in doubles?
A: Woody (associate head coach Chris Woodruff) actually came up with that. When we were in New York, we got up there and we were practicing. Woody was talking to us about some stuff and he just randomly said, "Libeats, you're the hammer. Reese is the rock. He's not going to miss and he's not going to give you any flashy serves or returns. He's the rock and you're the hammer. You have to come up with the goods when we need it." I like to tell Libeats that on the court.
Q: What's it like to develop chemistry with Mike? He comes from a very different background than you do.
A: Everything about him is different. He played all the ITF stuff all over the world. He's been one of the best in his country since he was like 2 years old. We both love tennis; we love Tennessee; we love doubles; we love playing together. We just clicked. We do a good job of keep each other pumped up. I can't explain it; we just clicked together. He's a fun partner.
Q: You got a big win against the former No. 2 doubles team, the Thiemann twins. Obviously you guys can beat the best. How far do you think you can go and what do you have to do to do that?
A: They were No. 2? Sweet. I think we can compete for an individual doubles title. There's no reason we can't win every match we play together. The biggest thing we have to work on is staying focused every point on our court. A good example is the Eastern Kentucky match. We were up 7-0 and we both let off the gas a little. We thought we had our match clinched and that can't happen. Focus is the biggest thing for us. Staying solid and playing our system--the Tennessee way--not giving anything away, if we can do that, I don't see why we can't win the NCAAs this year.
Q: What's the biggest area you've improved personally since last year?
A: Probably my match toughness. We had an incredibly tough fall with weights and conditioning. It really toughened me up and got me ready for this season. I feel ready to play every match. I feel like I'm prepared when I get in these third set matches, I feel ready. I'm not scared or nervous. I feel like if I fight for every point, then I can win.
Q: After playing the twins on Monday, do you feel like you would want to play with your twin if you had one?
A: I don't know. I think it would be fun, but I don't know how much we would win. Neither of us would have a good serve. We would be breaking all the time, but we'd have to--we couldn't hold. I would get frustrated with myself. I already do, so if there's someone else, I don't think that would work very well.
Q: In New York, you introduced Big Mike to Reese's Cups. How has he never had those?
A: I don't know. There's a whole Hershey's store in New York and they had a whole corner of Reese's stuff. He saw it and pointed it out to me and I was like, "yeah, that's why everyone calls me that." I bought him one. He liked it, but I don't live with him to know if it's changed his life. I sure hope it has.
Q: Last week, Brandon Fickey said you would be the lead singer in his band, but you were really bad.
A: I read that and I'm going to get him back. I'd like to clarify that I'm not so much a singer as I am a lyrist. Before I came to college, all my friends teased me because I knew every word to every song. I think that's what he was referring to, but I've never claimed to be good.
Q: He also said you were a big R&B fan, but you don't really strike me as the R&B type.
A: I don't know where he got that from. I listen to pretty much everything. He also implied I didn't like country. I don't mind it. I'll listen to anything. I don't know where he got all that from.
Q: What's it like to be able to have your family come to all the matches?
A: It's pretty cool. My dad didn't get to see me play a ton in juniors because of work. It's pretty cool to have him come to the matches on the weekends now. My mom has been there for as long as I've been playing. It's cool to see them up there supporting you and wearing some Tennessee gear.
Q: If you could live the life of any fictional character, who would it be?
A: I love The Office. It's my favorite show. I'd love to live Jim's life. He's like my hero: he's funny and he doesn't really work very hard. He just goes in and cruises through his day.
Q: That doesn't seem like a good philosophy for you on the tennis court.
A: My job and tennis are two different things. He doesn't enjoy his job like I enjoy tennis.
Q: If you got stuck in an elevator with someone from the team, who would you want to be with?
A: Probably not Colton; he wouldn't really care. He's pretty laid back. Bry would freak out too much. Probably Brandon or Taylor. We would pass the time pretty well and joke around. Plus they both have way better phones than me and could call for help. I have an awful phone.
Q: The team just got a ping-pong table. Who's the best player on the team?
A: I'd like to claim that. Mikelis was pretty good back in Latvia, but not here. He came over here and I did a little number on him. I think I take that title, although Jarryd's pretty good, too. We used to play when we lived together last year. We broke a couple of paddles.
Q: Does anyone get really upset about it?
A: Everybody. Jarryd and I break paddles. It's just the competitive sides coming out of us, especially in a goofy way. It's not like tennis where you really get mad, but we get pretty competitive with it.