April 14, 2011
By Amanda Pruitt
For senior John-Patrick Smith, his college tennis playing days are ticking away.
But that doesn't mean he and the Vols have run out of meaningful matches. Not by a long shot.
He and fellow seniors Boris Conkic and Matteo Fago wrapped up their final home match in style - a 7-0 sweep of Florida - and now lead the fourth-ranked Vols to Georgia for a chance to make history Saturday. Tennessee (19-3, 9-1 SEC) has never won consecutive conference titles but could earn a share of the conference crown with a victory over the fifth-ranked Bulldogs, who are 10-0 in SEC play.
As part of the 2008 freshman class, Smith has helped elevate the Vols back among the elite tennis programs. The three-time All-America from Townsville, Australia, has not slowed down since taking SEC Player of the Year honors a season ago. Playing almost exclusively at the No. 1 position since conference season began, he has compiled an 8-1 record in singles and a 9-1 mark in doubles. He and Conkic, ranked No. 1 nationally in doubles, are 22-1 together since January.
Heading into the final stretch of his career, Smith can still discuss topics on the lighter side. He talks the Senior Day shutout, his iconic use of sunscreen and Jarryd Chaplin's future as a cable television star in this week's tennis Q&A.
Q: You've had a few days to kind of digest Sunday. What are your final thoughts about Senior Day?
A: It's definitely going to be one that's remembered. Since I've been here, we've never shut out Florida in the regular season. I think the closest we've ever come is 6-1 my sophomore year. Other than that, it was a great memory. It was a great turnout, and we had great fans out to support us. It was definitely a day I'll always remember. I remember last year's Senior Day with Davey (Sandgren) and a couple years ago my freshman year with Kaden (Hensel). They had big crowds and a lot of support, so it was good to have the same atmosphere.
Q: You got a standing ovation from the crowd as you walked off the court after your singles match. What was that moment like?
A: It was so cool. At the end of the match, I gave a salute. It just came to my head to do that just as soon as I won. I guess it's weird thinking that's my last regular-season home match before NCAAs. We possibly have two more home matches left, but for a last regular-season home match, that was a pretty good way to go off.
Q: Did you see someone had made a poster for you up in the stands? They nicknamed you `The Artist' on the sign.
A: (laughs) That was cool. I don't know who made it, but it was great. If you find out who made it up, kudos to them.
Q: So, you're either `The Artist' or - as Jarryd Chaplin calls you -- the `Big Dog'?
A: Big Dog is something Jarryd's called me as soon as he got over here. He probably calls lots of people back home that too.
Q: Have you seen Jarryd's new instructional video ?
A: Yeah, I have actually. I saw the way Jarryd told the guy to aim at my banner while serving. I'll make sure if I film something, I'll put up a picture of him somewhere and tell people to aim at him.
Q: Do you think Jarryd has a future in television?
A: (laughs) Oh, I'm sure there are some really low-paying cable TV shows that need hosts and can pick him up. But anything that has real depth in their humor? Probably not.
Q: OK, that's fair enough. Now, when my parents come visit me, it's exciting because I get to go to restaurants and places I could otherwise not afford. Have you been able to go to dinner with your folks since they got into Knoxville?
A: They got here on Thursday, and went to dinner Thursday, Friday, Saturday we had a senior dinner and then again on Sunday. It was great just to catch up. It was funny because we went to a bunch of places I had never been to. We were just driving down Kingston (Pike), and it was good. Living the ride, huh?
Q: Changing gears a little bit. Last week, Bryan Swartz and Taylor Patrick talked about racing go-karts as a team in Texas. Care to talk about your experiences at the go-kart/batting cages/arcade place?
A: It was so much fun, especially the batting cages as well. I wish we'd had some time for putt-putt golf as well because that would have brought out some good stuff. The video game session? That was hard work. A lot of people came out sweaty after that. The go-karts were great. It was so much fun. I don't know if they have a place like that in Knoxville, but it would be fun to go to.
Q: Rhyne Williams has played baseball, so he doesn't count, but did anyone show signs of a baseball career in the batting cages?
A: Yeah, the guy next to me, he was pretty good. Maybe 30 years old. There's a chance he could make the Major Leagues. But do you mean on our team? I did like Taylor's courage going into the 75 mph batting cage. I'll take my hat off to that. I remember the lighting was so bad that I couldn't even see the ball behind the cage. I don't know how he went in there and faced that. So, yeah, I'll give it to Taylor because he didn't back down. He's brave enough.
Q: Got a little on court question. For outdoor matches, you'll wear that white sunscreen right across your face. What's the story with that?
A: Pat Rafter did it a lot while he was playing. Even when I'm home, when it's really sunny, I like to just put it across my nose because it's always the place you wipe your towel with and it's the place you lose a lot of sunscreen. I did it when I got over here, so it's kind of stuck with me for outdoor matches. I remember last year, Matteo (Fago) and Ed (Jones) did it for a doubles match. I don't think they do it anymore, but it's stuck with me.
Q: So it's not just a look? It actually serves a purpose?
A: I don't know. I guess it wouldn't be really intimidating, white sunscreen right across your face. It's basically a just UVA-protection purpose.
Q: Apart from any go-kart ability, Bryan mentioned you have actual driving skills. Do you?
A: I think I have pretty good driving ability since I've driven on the left side and the right side. I'd like see some of the other guys drive on the left side in Australia and get a taste of what it's like over there. I grew up learning on a geared stick car, I'd like to see those guys try it over there and then we can critique them.
Q: Was it tough getting used to traffic going the other direction?
A: You get used to the way the traffic goes and sitting on a different side when you're a passenger. It just took a bit of time to get used to. It wasn't a big step. Sometimes when I have my iPod in, I'll naturally look to the left instead of my right when I'm walking across streets. Thankfully, nothing too bad has happened to me yet, though.
Q: Bryan said you were one of the most high-maintenance members of the team. What are your thoughts?
A: I'd definitely disagree with that. I'm actually one of the most low-maintenance on the team. Just send me on a court, and I'll do whatever I have to be told to do. Most high-maintenance person on the team? (laughs) Hmmm ... I don't want to name names or anything because that's not my style. I like to keep things inside, you know?
Q: So you'll tell them about it later?
Q: Now, Bryan also complained about your squeaky shoes in his interview. What do you have to say about that?
A: I wanted to say that when I roomed with Bryan at Duke, I was literally waiting for him at the door for 10 minutes to go down to breakfast. I had my foot on the door, bag packed, waiting to go, when I realized he still wasn't ready. I just left without him. He's the slowest person ever.
Q: Speaking of shoes, the guys mentioned Boris' pink shoes that he wore for a while. What about those?
A: Whatever makes Boris happy, you know? Whatever helps him focus on his tennis and compete, that's fine by me. He could play barefoot, and I wouldn't care.
Q: Would you wear pink shoes?
A: No, probably not.
Q: What's your favorite color?
A: Blue. Growing up in primary school, our housing colors were blue, green, yellow and red. I was in the blue one, so that's probably why it stuck with me. Lots of blue sky where I'm from as well.
Q: When you go home for Christmas break, it's summer for you back home. What's it like having to come back here at the end of the break, where it's 30 degrees outside?
A: The worst thing is getting used to things the first few days back home. It's just so hot. You're so used to wearing sweats and stuff, so your body takes a lot of time getting adjusted. The plane ride and playing outdoors again takes a toll, and then you have to get back to the cold. Good times.
Q: If you had to choose the movie for the entire team to watch on a road trip, what would it be?
A: If it was a TV show of my choice, it'd be South Park or Seinfeld. But movie? It'd have to be ... there are so many good movies I like. Hang on. (Long pause) This is a really important question, Amanda. I'd probably say "Anchorman." I think the team would enjoy it. Some of the comedic bits are so funny.
Q: Several guys have mentioned Harry Potter in the Weekly Q&As. Would you like to weigh in?
A: I love Harry Potter. I've only read up to book No. 4, but then I ran out of time. That was in high school. I've seen the movies up through No. 5, but I haven't seen the newest one. I really need to watch No. 6 ASAP, so I can see the new one. I remember when Harry Potter came on ABC Family the other day, like a marathon, I could have sat down and watched the whole thing.