March 9, 2010
Looking back on his freshman season, senior Davey Sandgren describes his doubles game in one word: horrible.
How times have changed. Five years later, Sandgren is wrapping up one of the most successful doubles careers in Tennessee tennis history.
Sandgren and junior John-Patrick Smith's 9-7 victory over Alabama's Saketh Myneni and Michael Davis on Sunday afternoon secured the doubles point for the Vols. Sandgren held serve to close out the match and become just the third Vol to ever record 100 career doubles victories.
Only three-year doubles partners Byron Talbot and Shelby Cannon have more wins at Tennessee. Talbot and Cannon, who played from 1985-88, finished with 131 and 128 doubles victories, respectively.
Reaching the milestone Sunday was no accident. It was a result of years of practice.
"Davey means so much to this program," head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "He deserves any success that he gets, and we couldn't be more proud of him. We remember a guy who, when he came here, was serving and forgetting to volley. The effort and focus that he's put on it, as much as he's developed, he's a great doubles player."
Sandgren began his Vols career as a redshirt freshman and primarily played the No. 3 position. At the time, he never expected to play No. 1; the only goal starting out at Tennessee was to improve his skills at doubles.
"Knowing that was a big weakness in my tennis game, I wanted to get better, and I've worked really hard on it the past three years," Sandgren said. "I guess the work showed at the end."
The work really started to pay off in terms of wins during spring 2009. Sandgren teamed up with Smith to open the year by winning the SEC Coaches Indoor Championships. They became a mainstay at the No. 1 position and climbed their way up the ITA national rankings as the year progressed. The rest is, well, history.
A Winning Combination
When it comes to doubles, there are a few names in program history that stand out, such Talbot and Cannon, or Rodney Harmon and Mel Purcell, who won the NCAA Doubles Championship in 1980.
The same will likely be said about Sandgren and Smith. They were NCAA Doubles finalists last year and are third on the career list with 62 wins as a pairing with three months to go in the season.
Sandgren said he would like to finish out his time at UT by moving to second on the career list. Chris Mahony and Pablo Montana, teammates from 1993-96, are currently occupying that position with 75 victories together.
It's safe to say the 100-win club will be inducting a fourth member in the coming weeks. Smith is only in his third year with the Vols but already has 92 career doubles wins.
At the NCAAs
Sandgren doesn't have to think too long to figure out his standout memory in doubles: last year's run with Smith in the NCAA championships.
Sandgren and Smith won four matches at the tournament to become the first Tennessee team since Harmon and Purcell to reach the NCAA finals. They lost in three sets in the championship to Virginia's Dominic Inglot and Michael Shabaz. Still, Sandgren and Smith ended the year as the No. 1 team in the final ITA rankings.
"We won some good matches, made it to the finals, but got unlucky at the end," Sandgren said.
Sandgren is also quick to recall a much more recent memory: doubles at the ITA National Team Indoor Championship in February. Sandgren and Smith finished ITA Indoors with a 4-0 record and were named to the all-tournament team as the top No. 1 doubles team. They finished off the tournament by breezing past Virginia's Shabaz and Drew Courtney 8-1 in the championship match.
Sandgren started 2010 with 12 consecutive wins, one of them coming with freshman Edward Jones. Sandgren and Smith suffered their first loss of 2010 last week against Auburn's No. 7-ranked team, Tim Puetz and Alex Stamchev.
Still, Sandgren and Smith have a 23-4 record this season, well ahead of last year's pace of 32 wins. They did not get their 20th win until March 19 last year. The record for doubles wins in a season is 40, set by Talbot and Cannon in 1986.
The objective from here is simple: keep winning and see what happens.
"I want to see us win out the season," Sandgren said. "We had our one loss and got it behind us, so now we're focusing on winning all of them for the team."
The Vols have come to expect a good showing in doubles. They've won the doubles point in all 14 dual matches this season. It doesn't hurt that in addition to having Sandgren and Smith at the top of the lineup, the No. 2 team is junior Boris Conkic and freshman Rhyne Williams, who are currently ranked fifth nationally and on an 11-match winning streak.
Chalk It up to `Longetivity'
On a Tennessee squad with three seniors, Sandgren is the only one to have been in Knoxville his entire collegiate career. He redshirted during the 2005-06 season, meaning the only member of the Tennessee program who has been on campus longer is associate head coach Chris Woodruff, who returned to coach the Vols in 2002.
Numbers tend to stack up through the years. He has played 149 matches in both singles and doubles. One more singles victory would give him 79 and put him in a tie for 15th on the career doubles wins list.
"To get to 100 wins, you have to have some longetivity," Sandgren said.
Timeline of 100
Here's a quick look at Sandgren's road to 100 doubles wins:
First Doubles Win: Sept. 9, 2006. Sandgren and Kiril Tcherveniachki defeat Beigart and Soltane of Central Florida 8-2.
First Doubles Title: Sept. 23, 2006. Sandgren and Tcherveniachki win the second flight of the Middle Tennessee Fall Invitational.
First Dual-Match Win: Jan. 26, 2007. Sandgren and Johnny Thornton defeat Memphis' Heflin and Pilant 8-6.
First SEC Win: March 4, 2007. Sandgren and Tcherveniachki earn an 8-6 victory over Mattos and Williams of Arkansas in the No. 3 position.
First Win with Smith Sept. 22, 2007. Sandgren and John-Patrick Smith team up for the first time and post an 8-5 victory over Georgia Tech's Gvelesiani and Smith. Sandgren and Smith play just 10 matches together during the season, going 7-3.
Win No. 25: Oct. 19, 2007. Sandgren and Smith defeat Georgia's Varela and Vitulli 8-6 at the ITA Indoor Regionals.
Win No. 50: Jan. 16, 2009. Sandgren and Smith post a lopsided 8-1 win over LSU's Bowtell and Roberts in the first round of the SEC Coaches Indoor Championships. Two days and three matches later, they win their first tournament title together, becoming the sixth Vol duo to win SEC Indoors.
Win No. 75: May 24, 2009. The final win of the season for Sandgren and Smith came in the semifinals of the NCAA Championships. They beat 10th-ranked Puetz and Tsyrenov of Auburn 6-4, 6-2.
The No. 1 Ranking: May 29, 2009. Sandgren and Smith finish as the top ranked doubles team in the final 2009 ITA national rankings. They enter the fall as the preseason No. 1 as well.
Dual-Match Win No. 50: Feb. 14, 2010. Win No. 50 comes in a big match for the Vols. Sandgren and Smith defeat No. 22 Kutrovsky and Zavala of Texas 8-6 in the semifinals of the ITA Team Indoor Championship.
Win No. 100: March 7, 2010. Sandgren holds serve at the end as he and Smith defeat Myneni and Davis of Alabama 9-7.