Feb. 13, 2014
BY: ROBBY VERONESI
Jarryd Chaplin and the men's tennis team barely managed to escape the wintry weather which hit Knoxville last night. Having arrived in Houston, Texas, ahead of their first match in the ITA National Indoor Championships against Southern California Friday, the Vols, and their senior Australian, are on a bit of a hot streak.
Tennessee comes into Houston on the back of a 9-1 start to the spring season, including home wins over No. 13 Duke and No. 19 Wake Forest. Chaplin clinched the Friday night win over the Blue devils with a thrilling 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win over No. 95 Bruno Semenzato.
That win on court four helped UT defeat Duke for the first time since Chaplin's freshman year. In fact, it was at the 2011 edition of the National Indoors in Seattle, Wash., where Chaplin recorded his first-ever singles win in a dual match format. After losing his first ever match to Georgia in the ITA first round, Chaplin--substituting for a sick Tennys Sandgren--helped secure a key singles point in the semifinals. He picked up his first win against, you guessed it, Duke.
"That whole semester is a bit of a whirlwind," said Chaplin. "I came into such a fantastic team and the talent from that team put immense pressure on me to match them because it was such a high caliber."
Back in 2011, Tennessee entered the tournament ranked No. 3 in the country, with the top four players all ranked in the top-120, as well as a top-10 doubles pair. Five players above Chaplin in the lineup---John-Patrick Smith, Rhyne Williams, Boris Conkic, Tennys Sandgren and Matteo Fago---have gone on to win professional tournaments.
Add on the pressure of opening up a college career with starts against three of the top teams in the nation (Georgia, UCLA, Duke) and the stage was set for Chaplin to gain some valuable playing time and experience.
"I feel absolutely privileged, when I look at it now, that I was able to get that experience," said Chaplin. "Playing in the final (against Virginia), we lost the doubles point on court two to two guys who are now in the top-300 in singles, so those kind of experiences are invaluable as a freshman."
With this vital experience early, Chaplin has matured into one of the team leaders. On the court, he is the lone senior in the regular rotation and has been a staple at the No. 4 position, recording 57 singles wins and 64 doubles wins. Chaplin has also been a leader off the court, earning spots on All-SEC teams, Academic Honor Rolls and Community Service teams.
"Looking back, it made me less afraid to win," said Chaplin. "I was very fortunate that I got play doubles with JP Smith and Rhyne Williams. They were very used to winning, so I had to learn how to hold myself to a certain standard. That helped me believe in myself a lot more throughout my college career and especially now as a senior.
"I hope I can have that aura about myself when I play younger guys who know that I've won a lot of matches."
This year's squad enters the tournament in Houston as the No. 14 seed in the draw, in the bottom half of the bracket. They will first play No. 3 USC at 4 p.m. Knoxville time, and then will play either host Texas A&M or Baylor on day two. The day after that, depending on the results, the Vols will play either Illinois, Oklahoma, Pepperdine or UCLA.
Each team is guaranteed to play three matches, which can be quite a physical tax for players. Chaplin, however, knows what to expect now, thanks to that first year experience in Seattle.
"It's an awesome tournament just because you've got 16 teams (and) everyone deserves to be there," said Chaplin. "There's live matches going on from 9 a.m. to sometimes as late as midnight. You look down the line on every match, at one to six, and they're all fantastic matches. The caliber of tennis is incredible.
"Keeping everyone level-headed is the most important thing. Our tennis across the board has come a long way in a couple weeks and we're physically looking very good to make it through four days."