March 3, 2011
The second-ranked Tennessee Volunteers begin the hunt for their first back-to-back conference titles Friday when they host 29th-ranked Alabama to start the SEC season.
The match starts at 2 p.m. at Barksdale Stadium. In the event of rain, the match could be moved inside Goodfriend Tennis Center.
The Vols (10-1) also host Auburn on Sunday at 1 p.m. as part of the SEC opening weekend.
An interactive live blog of both matches will be available at UTSports.com.
Admission is free. Those attending match are requested to park in lot N-15, which can be accessed from Terrace Avenue. Parking in any other lot could result in a ticket.
Back to SEC Play
Coming off their first SEC regular-season title in 10 years a season ago, the Vols were selected to repeat that feat in the 2011 coaches' preseason poll. They received 10 of 12 votes as the favorites to hoist the championship trophy.
Last season, the Vols finished the SEC schedule 11-0 and shut out all three opponents a few days later to win their first SEC Tournament title since 2002. Five Vols earned All-SEC honors, including four who are returning: John-Patrick Smith, Boris Conkic, Rhyne Williams and Tennys Sandgren. Smith is the reigning SEC Player of the Year, and Williams earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors.
The Vols returned to winning ways Sunday with a 6-1 win against Wake Forest, a match that was moved inside Goodfriend Tennis Center because of rain. After taking the doubles point, Tennessee quickly picked up three straight-set singles wins from sophomores Edward Jones, Tennys Sandgren and Rhyne Williams to clinch the match.
The Career Doubles Record
Once again, Smith is about to reach a Tennessee milestone. The three-time All-America senior enters Friday's match one win shy of tying Byron Talbot (1985-88) for the most doubles wins in a UT career.
Smith has a 130-34 doubles record in his time as a Vol, 18 of those wins coming with current doubles partner, Conkic. For the weekend of his potential record-breaking wins, Smith and Conkic fittingly took over the No. 1 spot in the national doubles rankings Tuesday. The Vols duo is 13-1 this spring with four wins against top-15 opponents.
In his career, Smith has been ranked No. 1 in doubles (and singles) on multiple occasions. He and Davey Sandgren were the top-ranked doubles team three times, including in the final 2009 rankings. As a freshman, Smith was ranked as high as fourth with fellow Australian, Kaden Hensel.
Doubles Teams All Ranked
Conkic and Smith are no longer alone atop the doubles rankings. Conkic and Smith have been a perfect 9-0 since teaming up at the No. 1 position in the Vols' lineup, but they are no longer the only Tennessee representatives in the national doubles list. All three of the Vols' regular teams are now ranked, with Fago and Jones at No. 52 and Williams and Sandgren at No. 55.
In singles, Tennessee relinquished its hold on the top ranking for the first time since June as Williams slid to third, but five Vols still remained in the top 125. Smith checked in at No. 13, followed by Tennys Sandgren at No. 35, Fago at No. 41 and Conkic at No. 113. The rankings help determine participants for the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships in May.
The Crimson Tide (7-2) enter Friday's match ranked 29th nationally after the ITA released its first computerized ranking of the season Tuesday. They do not have any ranked singles players, but five of six players in the singles lineup have a winning record at their respective positions in dual matches. Michael Thompson has compiled a 6-0 record on court 5.
In doubles, Alabama has one ranked team: Thompson and Vikram Reddy are ranked 62nd.
When Last They Met
The Vols defeated Alabama 4-1 last season in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Tennessee won the doubles opint and then got straight-set wins from Conkic and Williams before Fago clinched the match on court 6.
Good to Be Home
The Vols have won their last 28 matches in Knoxville, dating to a non-conference match against Kentucky on Feb. 21, 2010. Since seniors Conkic, Fago and Smith joined the program, the Vols are 48-2 in home dual matches. Smith has won 27 consecutive matches in Knoxville, the longest active streak on the team.
When it comes to conference play, the Vols have won their last 16 SEC matches at home.
While the team has not played outside yet in 2011, Tennessee hosted six outdoor matches at home last season, winning all of them and getting shutouts in three of those contests.
12 & Counting
Conkic is riding a career-best 12-match winning streak in singles. While he has played a majority of his matches in the fifth spot in the UT lineup, his last three wins have come at the No. 4 position. The senior from Novi Sad, Serbia, has been near perfect in his return to Tennessee in January. He has a 15-1 record.
Sandgren joins Conkic as the only undefeated players in dual-match play. He enters Friday with a 7-0 record at the No. 3 position and is ranked in the top 40 for the first time in his career. He has a 19-4 overall record and has beaten five of six ranked opponents this spring.
Three returning Vols collected 10 wins in SEC play last season. Sandgren was a perfect 10-0, and Williams and Fago were each 10-1.
While he says there's no real secret to it, Fago has been a winner in SEC competition. He is 28-3 in his career in conference dual matches. Smith is 23-7 in his SEC career, including 16-4 at the No. 1 position.
Going for 20
Sandgren and Jones have 19 singles wins apiece so far this season, so both are looking for their 20th win Friday. Smith (27-9), Williams (23-6) and Fago (20-6) have already reached that milestone this year.
As a freshman last year, Sandgren finished 23-5 after joining the Vols before the dual-match season. He has been in winning form on court this spring with a 12-1 record since January.
Jones has already long eclipsed his first-year win total of 14. The sophomore from Carmarthen, Wales, is in his first year as a fixture in the singles lineup and will be making his SEC singles debut against Alabama. He has an 8-2 record in dual matches this year, playing on courts 5 and 6.
Reese Wins in Waco
Freshman Hunter Reese, who is redshirting this spring, captured the 18s singles title at the USTA National Open in Waco, Texas, last weekend. He entered the tournament as the third seed and won all five of his matches in straight sets. Reese joined the Vols in January after graduating early from North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Ga.
Fickey Gets Blue-Chip Status
November signee Brandon Fickey was upgraded from a five-star to blue-chip prospect in tennisrecruiting.net's revised rankings, which were released Monday. Fickey, a Knoxville native, is listed as the No. 1 recruit from Tennessee and is slated to join the Vols in the fall.
Tennessee's early signing class of Reese - also a blue chip - and Fickey is ranked fifth nationally by tennisrecruiting.net.