May 13, 2009
Knoxville, Tenn. - Having survived a pair of tough home matches in the first two rounds of the 2009 NCAA Tennis Tournament, the fifth-seeded Tennessee Volunteers turn their sights on the 12th-seeded Texas Longhorns from the Big 12 Conference in the round of 16 as they look to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002.
The Volunteers (23-6) face the Longhorns (21-6) May 14 at 9 a.m. CT at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center on the campus of Texas A&M in College Station, Texas. The winner advances to play the winner of No. 4 Georgia and No. 13 Illinois, Saturday, May 16 at Noon. Tennessee went 1-1 against Georgia (losing the regular-season, 5-2, winning in the SEC Tournament, 4-1) and posted a 4-3 win at Illinois on Feb. 7.
"This should be an exciting match as Texas returns a lot experience from a team that played in the national finals last year," said Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham. "They are as good as any team in the draw. We won't underestimate them, but focus on playing up to our strengths."
Texas leads the all-time series with Tennessee, 7-5, dating back to 1974. The last time the teams met was in the Round of 16 in College Station in 2002 where the Vols posted a 4-0 victory. The only other meeting in NCAA play came in 1993 in Athens, Ga., when the Longhorns eliminated the Volunteers in the first round, 5-1.
This marks the second straight year Tennessee has reached the round of 16, as the eighth-seeded Vols fell to the ninth-seeded Baylor Bears, 4-1, in Tulsa, Okla., last season.
Tennessee does own a 2-2 mark in the NCAA Championships in College Station, having reached the semifinals there in 2002. It also lost to UCLA in the round of 16 there in 2005.
The Vols won't be intimidated though as they have played one of the toughest schedules in the nation. They compiled a 17-6 mark against squads in the 64-team field and played 14 matches against nine of the top 14 national seeds in the tournament, going 8-6. UT played matches against No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Ole Miss, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Georgia, No. 6 Baylor, No. 10 Florida, No. 11 Kentucky, No. 13 Illinois and No. 14 Alabama.
Tennessee's success this season has be predicated on winning the doubles point. With a pair of top 50 doubles teams in the third-ranked pair of Davey Sandgren and John-Patrick Smith joining the No. 2 duo of Boris Conkic and Matteo Fago, the Vols post a formidable team to the opposition. UT is a perfect 19-0 when capturing the doubles point and just 4-6 when it doesn't.
Smith, a sophomore, is playing some of his best tennis as the season winds down. The No. 3 player in the rankings has won six straight matches, with the last five coming against ranked opponents. He has matched his freshman win total of 33 and has played 31 of his 43 matches this season against ranked foes.
Davey Sandgren has also stepped up his game with three straight singles victories, including a match-clinching win at the No. 4 spot against Duke last Saturday.
Conkic has won 13 of his last 14 matches at the No. 2 position while going 11-7 versus ranked opponents. He also pulled out a grueling three-set win versus Duke to aid in UT's 4-1 triumph.