April 4, 2009
On Sunday, Tennessee will honor Associate Head Coach Chris Woodruff for his induction into the ITA Men's Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame last May.
When asked about Chris Woodruff and what made him successful that is what his junior and collegiate head coach had to say about him. DePalmer said that in his 40 years of coaching he's never had an athlete come close to working as hard as UT's two-time All-America did.
"He just outworked everybody. He was the student that always wanted one more ball. I would tell him, it's time to go and he'd be standing there saying ok, give me one more ball and we're out of here and right after I gave him one more, he'd want another. That's just how Chris was.
"He never thought he had enough practice."
Woodruff and DePalmer first met when the young tennis prodigy was just 14. DePalmer was his junior coach and helped Woodruff develop into one of the elite recruits in tennis.
"I taught this game for 40 years and he's without a doubt the hardest worker I've ever had."
--Mike DePalmer Sr. (Head Tennessee men's tennis coach 1981-1994)
DePalmer claims it wasn't a lock but Woodruff says there was only one place that he knew he could play.
"I chose Tennessee in large part because of Coach DePalmer," Woodruff said. "It came down to UT and Georgia and end in the end it was the trust I had in Coach DePalmer. I knew Coach DePalmer's system and I was familiar with his beliefs about tennis and I knew they would best suit me individually."
DePalmer had gotten the prize jewel but he didn't want to unleash him at the beginning of his rookie season. UT's head coach wanted the freshman to get his feet wet but unfortunately or fortunately depending on whose side you see the story from that never happened.
"I wanted him to play No. 2 his freshman season," DePalmer said. "But we had an injury and Chris had to move up to No. 1. I was real chagrined when we had to do it. I thought we were bringing him along too fast." Woodruff settled into the No. 1 spot as a freshman nicely, putting together a 36-9 record and setting himself up for a run at the NCAA singles championship as a sophomore.
"The injury really turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I think all of the experience he got as a freshman is what helped him develop his game and helped him win the National Title."
As a sophomore, Woodruff went 45-7 in singles, winning the SEC Indoor Singles title and ultimately defeating Wade McGuire, coincidentally of Georgia, in the championship match of the NCAA singles tournament.
At that point, UT's phenom made the difficult choice to turn pro.
"I know Chris struggled with the decision but to me there was never a question that he should turn pro," DePalmer said. "I thought it was the proper move. He had accomplished all of his individual goals. There was nothing else for him to prove at the collegiate level.
"I also never doubted that Chris would come back and get his degree, which he did."
Woodruff would rise to as high as ninth in the world, while winning two event titles (1997 Montreal Super 9 Canadian Open and the 1999 Miller Lite Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, R.I.). During his nine-year career, Woodruff defeated seven players who at one time were ranked No. 1 in the world, including Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. Other big names that Woodruff knocked off were Yevgeni Kafelnikov, Thomas Muster, Gustavo Kuerten, Marcelo Rios, Carlos Mova, Goran Ivanisevic, Thomas Enqvist and Tim Henman.
Woodruff only made one mistake in his professional career according to his former coach.
"I was shocked when he retired and I told him he was too young to retire," DePalmer said. "I couldn't believe it when he told me that's what he decided to do. I told him one hundred times that he was too young but he had made his mind up."
Woodruff's mind was made up and he was headed back to Knoxville. The former UT All-America rejoined the program in 2002 as a voluntary coach while also taking classes to complete his degree. In 2005, he became a full-time assistant coach and when current head coach Sam Winterbotham came along in November 2006, Woodruff was promoted to associate head coach.
"Chris is just a fantastic tennis coach," Winterbotham said. "He does so much for our program and is a real asset for myself and the guys on the team. He has such a great rapport with the players and when he says something they listen. I mean they have to. The guy is one of the greatest collegiate tennis players of all-time."
During his time as a coach at UT, Woodruff has helped the Vols earn nine All-America selections and was named the 2008 Region III Assistant Coach of the Year."
"He's a really good coach," current player Davey Sandgren said. "He gives us great advice during the match and he can really breakdown our opponents. He'll watch our opponents and then come over to us and say to do this or do that and sure enough it works every time."
Woodruff will be honored Sunday afternoon in the break between singles and doubles at the UT Outdoor Varsity Courts. Attendance is free.