Feb. 6, 2014
By: ROBBY VERONESI UTSPORTS.COM
Vol fans know him as the No. 16 player in the country. They know he is part of the No. 1 doubles team in the country. They may know that he is a three-year starter after redshirting his freshman year out of Kennesaw, Ga.
The people who know Tennessee tennis know who Hunter Reese is. The passion, the energy, the competitive mentality is synonymous with his gameplay, and goes back to a time when two boys competed in everything in the suburbs of Atlanta. The man beneath the hat and black and white armbands is humble yet determined, happy with success yet aware that there is room for improvement. He is also an eloquent speaker, even when disagreeing with a referee's decision.
Now an upperclassman, Reese's role has shifted into a team leader and role model for the younger players, holding true to the Tennessee toughness mindset that the coaches preach over and over again.
Reese and the No. 14 Vols come off of their first road trip of the year, including their lone loss in the early season. A tough home weekend welcomes back the Vols, as No. 13 Duke and No. 19 Wake Forest come to Knoxville this weekend.
On the one year anniversary of his last Serve-and-Volley session, Reesey, as he's affectionately known, stopped by to discuss his biggest pet peeve, KennesawHound and which foreign-born player beat a certain American at Civil War history.
Q: You're probably the most consistent player on the team right now, arguably. Can you give a brief takeaway from the Oklahoma weekend, both from an individual level as well as the team? What do you guys take from that weekend and bring to Duke and Wake Forest this weekend?
A: It was disappointing. We are a better team than Oklahoma State. It's just simple; we should have beat them. Jarryd (Chaplin) made a great comment that we were six individuals playing that day, as opposed to a team, so I think that had a lot to do with it. They had a big crowd. Some of the younger guys let it get to their head--it got in my head a little bit. I was able to handle it a little bit better than some, but you could definitely see some of the new guys with a little `deer in the headlights' look. What I hope is that that is a learning experience because there are bigger crowds than that in the SEC. It was a good environment, it was a good crowd, but there are bigger ones and if we are going to have the year we want to have, then they are going to have to learn that and move forward.
Personally, I'm hoping to get better every match. I think I've done that. Tulsa was the best match I played so far, but it's still not where I want to be. So, just keep moving forward and keep trying to get better every single match.
Q: That leads into my next question....Congratulations on your 70th career (singles) win after that Tulsa win. How would you analyze the state of your game?
A: I think that's the best I've played, I draw on the National Indoors last year. I played really well when I was up there in the fall in New York, and so I'm using that as a base. I'm still not quite there as of Christmas break. I think it's just getting back in the competitive mindset. It's always different in dual matches compared to tournaments, so (I'm) adjusting to that. The staple of my game is just being competitive and trying to win every single point and if I don't win one point, just move on to the next. Over two or three hours, that mindset is what can separate me from some other players. I think getting into that mindset is going to help me when we get to SEC play. We play enough matches where I'll be able to find my own rhythm. I'll figure out the tennis court stuff, so just keep getting better and keep working on having the same mindset for every match; not getting flustered and staying competitive through every point.
Q: Was there any moment during the fall or winter break, because it seems like something has clicked for you?
A: I think just talking to the coaches after I lost my first round match in New York (ITA National Indoors). We had a long meeting. I was doing the same thing: I lost first round, I lost first round in Tulsa, I lost first round in NCAAs last year, lost first round in Tulsa the year before. Every big tournament, it was the same thing. I was going in and losing. They said, `you know, you're playing these guys and you want to be the best, but you go in and you get bullied a little bit with your game.' They sat me down and told me, `for the rest of this tournament, try this. Try to be aggressive and just hit the ball and do these things that we want to work on. Win or lose, it doesn't matter.' So I went in and had that kind of mentality and it worked. It opened my eyes to some new things, some stuff that I can add to my game. Be a little more aggressive, come to the net, go after my serve a lot more. Over the break, I definitely worked on my serve a ton, so I just think the combination of getting a little more aggressive, hearing what my coaches were wanting me to do and working on my serve have really helped take me to another level.
Q: Transitioning to the other successful part of your game with Mikelis (Libietis). No. 1, now fourth place all-time in UT history in terms of doubles wins...I know you guys have grown over the first couple years, but is it possible that you guys have grown more this year together as a pair?
A: As freshmen, we were freshmen: kind of a little bit immature, we butted heads sometimes (and) didn't know how to handle each other. Last year, we split up and got put together towards the end of the SEC season and then finished the year together. The time apart showed both of us `well, hey, when I'm not playing with you, I'm playing No. 3 doubles and winning. When you're not playing with me, you're playing No. 1 doubles. You're still winning, but they were kind of iffy on the rankings.' They put us together and (within) 10 matches, we were No. 1 in the country, so I think it proved to us that we both need each other.
Q: The other thing I've noticed with you is the leadership role that you seemed to have taken on. I know part of that comes with being one of the few upperclassmen on the team, but how did you start becoming more of a leader?
A: I think it came a little bit from my personality. I just generally want to be a little different and naturally, I just want to lead. I don't like to be told what to do. It just fits in my personality. Some of the successes I've had have shown me, `Hey, you can help some of the younger guys.' We talk a lot about the mentality of the program: being really tough, being competitive. I personally think I embody that. The coaches have definitely told me `you need to help these younger guys out.' We talk about getting it a lot, and so all fall, they talked (about) the new guys have to get it because if we're going to have a good spring, everyone needs to be on the same page.
When I came in, we didn't have that. My freshman year, we had five freshmen and we had one returner. I don't want to take anything away, but last year, we had a great leadership position and it was filled with three guys, not just one guy. So, I was able to see the difference of a team kind of without a leader and a team with three guys that said, `hey, this is how we do it.' I know how important it is. I'm proud to fill that role.
Q: You have to be one of the loudest guys I think I've seen on the court, whether in practice or in a match. Have you always been this loud and vocal and eloquent in your speech when you're angry?
A: I don't think I was very eloquent in my speech when I was younger. I've always been loud. I've always worn my heart on my sleeve. When I was younger, I got in some trouble for yelling at referees or yelling in general, just being a brat on the court in general. With a little bit of maturity, the yelling has hopefully gotten more positive. I'm just so competitive....I don't want to lose at anything ever. It doesn't matter what it is, I don't want to lose at it.
Q: I've just never heard anyone annunciate `horrific' so clearly in a match. Just three-syllable words just so annunciated, it was fantastic.
A: Well, I think if you ask anyone on the team, they'll tell you that I'm a stickler for grammar. I'm always correcting people. Nothing bugs me more than screwing up the use of `there' (there, their, they're). They're three different words and I don't understand how people screw them up.
Q: Even with all the internationals that don't know English as well?
A: I give them a little break, but, I mean, Americans.....they're three different words...and `to.' When people mean `t-o-o' and write `t-o', there's nothing that bugs me more. I think that's a little of where the eloquence comes from.
Q: On the live blog, there is one name that's usually been coming up more than anyone else, and that is KennesawHound, which is your dad (Glenn). What is the role that your family has played in your entire tennis career?
A: Growing up, I had the opportunity to do whatever I wanted. My parents never pushed me to play any sport. I played baseball until I was 14. When I quit, I was better at baseball than I was at tennis, so I really had no pressure to do anything and when I said I wanted to do tennis, my mom was incredible. (She) took me anywhere. She was always the one traveling with me because my dad worked. Generally, tournaments went Saturday to Monday, so we'd leave Friday and come back Monday. My dad worked Monday through Thursday. He could sometimes come for a Friday or Saturday if it was close, but he couldn't take me on long trips because he'd have to miss work. So, my mom pretty much did all the traveling and my dad didn't get to see me as much.
The opening weekend this year was the first match I've played without a parent in the stands. They've been to everything. My dad just comes to everything now. He's been to Tulsa the last two years and has been to NCAAs. My mom has been to New York every time I've been there. They just support me so much. The biggest thing: you hear these horror stories about parents that have their kids on the court at 11 p.m. hitting serves or something like that. The biggest thing my mom ever did was make me go to practice if I didn't want to because she was paying for practice. `You pay at the beginning of the month, you're going to get your money's worth. Other than that, the second I wanted to quit, they would've said `OK.'
Q: Since it has been one year since you were last in this spot, I thought we'd go back to a couple of things that were brought up and see if anything has changed. One thing that came up was a comment made by Brandon (Fickey) that you cannot sing. You would be frontman of a band with you, Brandon, Colton (Norton) and Ed (Jones). Has that (his singing ability) improved at all since last year?
A: I'll say that yes, it's improved, but I'll say that I was a fantastic singer last year, so now it's just fantastic plus better. There's no adjective for that, but I'm still going to disagree with him (Fickey) saying I can't sing because I absolutely can.
Q: The other thing was ping-pong. Is that still as competitive as when Trym (Nagelstad), Mikelis, Chaps (Jarryd Chaplin) and you were doing it?
A: It's not as much. If I'm being completely honest with you, the balls are getting a little cracked. We're struggling to find some good balls. We got the soft paddles, but nobody likes the soft paddle so we had to rip off the soft part. Now, it's like makeshift paddles, but they're not very good. It's a little tough, we don't play as much as we used to. Now I think we do more doubles stuff where it's a little less competitive in the sense of `I hate you because you beat me.' It's more trash-talk and fun competitiveness.
Q: So what's the big competition now with doubles?
A: Last week, Colton and I played against Bart (Sawicki) and Andrew (Dromsky). In doubles, you hit one and then your partner has to hit one, and we played (first to) five out of nine, or something like that. Colton and I won 5-1. That was good. We played well.
Q: Are you guys the No. 1 doubles team?
A: I would say yes, without a doubt. You can quote me on that.
Q: You know I will. Another thing I've heard is Flappy Bird.
A: Yeah, I'll tell you my Flappy Bird story. I downloaded it one night on my couch and 90 seconds later, it was off my phone. So that's....ugh...no.
Q: Are any of the guys addicted?
A: Oh yeah. This past road trip to Oklahoma, on the plane, it was ridiculous. Everyone was just tapping away and flapping, so I just refused to download it again. I played for about 90 seconds, maybe less. I got a high score of two. Candy Crush is my game.
Q: What level of Candy Crush are you on?
A: I just beat the game for like the sixth time.
Q: The entire game?
A: Yeah, I beat level 500. Every couple weeks, they come out with 15 new levels and I just beat it again.
Q: The other thing I've heard about is QuizUp. Are there any good QuizUp stories?
A: Similar to Flappy Bird, I had QuizUp for a while during the fall and over break. Then I just got a little frustrated with it. Not frustrated, it's just kind of weird. You have to challenge someone and wait for them to do it, but if you're next to someone, it's fun to do. On this road trip, we would team up. It would be like you and I would team up on this end of the table and then two other people at that end of the table and we'd challenge. You kind of have to keep quiet and try to get the right answer. We had some fun with American history with the foreigners. I think it was Colton that beat Jarryd in Australian knowledge, and then Bart beat Andrew at American history. I think he beat him in Civil War history, which is kind of a slap in the face. I'm going to have to talk to Andrew about that. We have some fun with that. We have a lot of national pride and we like to make jokes out of that.
Q: You have a younger brother, Jaryd, who looks exactly like you. He plays at Jacksonville State (Ala.). What's a scouting report (as a human being) on the younger Reesey?
A: As a person, he's kind of always looked up to me a little bit. I think if you look at competitiveness, I don't know how much of a role he's played in this, but I could not stand to lose to him in anything. It's got to be up there with any rivalry in the history of the world. He was the same like me, played all the same sports as me. He played baseball, quit about the same age as I did--about 14, started playing tennis. He did all the southern tournaments like I did. He's in college now, enjoying it hopefully....he's a good little brother.