March 18, 2011
After a three-match road trip, the top-ranked Tennessee Volunteers return to Knoxville to host 65th-ranked Arkansas on Saturday.
The match starts at 1 p.m. at Barksdale Stadium, and admission is free. A live blog of the action will be available at UTSports.com.
The Vols (14-2, 4-0 SEC) are looking to continue their 15-match Southeastern Conference winning streak while Arkansas (4-9,0-4) is still in search of its first league win of 2011. For more news and notes on Saturday's match:
The Road Swing
The Vols remained unbeaten in SEC play with a pair of close road victories, beating Kentucky 4-2 and Vanderbilt 4-3. After the tough SEC weekend, the Vols traveled to Waco, Texas, for their final non-conference match of the season and were upset by Baylor 4-3. The loss snapped Tennessee's 10-match road winning streak.
The Conference Race
The Vols are one of three teams to enter the weekend with 4-0 conference records, joining Georgia and Florida. The Vols face the Gators at home and the Bulldogs on the road in the final two matches of the season.
Tennessee, the 2010 SEC regular-season and tournament champion, is aiming for its first back-to-back titles in program history. Saturday marks roughly the halfway point of the 11-match round-robin schedule.
The No. 1 Ranking
Because of a demanding road schedule, the Vols surpassed Virginia in the ITA national computer rankings earlier this week. It was the first time in 21 years that the Vols have garnered the top ranking. Tennessee was the No. 1 seed in the 1990 NCAA Championships and reached the finals before falling to Stanford.
Unfortunately for the Vols, their current stay atop the rankings will probably not be a long one following the loss at Baylor. New team rankings will be released next Tuesday.
Individually, four Vols are ranked in singles: sophomore Rhyne Williams at No. 3, senior John-Patrick Smith at No. 12, Tennys Sandgren at No. 44 and Matteo Fago at No. 51. Smith and senior Boris Conkic retained their hold on the top doubles ranking, thanks to their 16-1 record this year. Williams and Sandgren moved up to No. 38.
The 65th-ranked Razorbacks snapped an eight-match losing skid Wednesday by beating Wichita State 5-2 at home. Arkansas does not currently have any ranked singles or doubles players, although No. 1 singles player Chris Nott has been ranked multiple times in his career.
When Last We Met
Tennessee defeated Arkansas 6-1 last season on the road. After taking the doubles point, got straight-set wins from Williams, Conkic and Sandgren to clinch the victory. Smith recorded his 100th career singles win by beating Nott 6-0, 6-7 (5), 6-3.
Good to Be Home
The Vols have won their last 30 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 50-2 in home dual matches. Smith has won 29 consecutive singles matches in Knoxville, the longest active streak on the team.
When it comes to conference play, the Vols have won their last 18 SEC matches at home. They are also 1-0 this year in outdoor matches in Knoxville. The other five have been played inside Goodfriend Tennis Center.
12 & Counting
Sandgren has been on a tear this spring and has won all 12 of his contests in dual match play. The native of Gallatin, Tenn., has flown up the rankings since January, thanks for a 17-1 start to 2011 with six wins against ranked opponents. He started off the season unranked and rose all the way to No. 35.
Sandgren, who is 14-0 in his career in SEC play, is still a few wins from his personal-best winning streak. He won 15 in a row as a freshman.
Smith is the only other Vol still undefeated in conference matches this season. Last season's SEC Player of the Year has a 3-0 record and is currently riding a five-match winning streak.
Countdown from 6
Fago enters Saturday's match with 94 career victories. He won two key singles matches in the Vols' most recent road trip, including a three-set clinching victory over Vanderbilt's Charlie Jones in a 4-3 win.
The senior from Ceprano, Italy, is the only Vol with 30 career SEC dual match victories. He has a 30-5 record over his four seasons wearing Orange and White.
Two current Vols already have 100 career wins: Smith (141) and Conkic (102). Tennessee has never had three active teammates with at least 100 wins.
4 from 2
Smith is four victories away from tying Peter Handoyo (1999-2002) for second on the Vols' career singles wins list. Smith, who has been playing at the top of the lineup the last three weeks, has a 141-40 career record with 87 of those wins coming against ranked opponents.