May 24, 2011
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- While the team season is over for Tennessee, four Vols still have national title hopes on the line as the NCAA individual championships start Wednesday at Stanford.
Senior John-Patrick Smith and sophomores Rhyne Williams and Tennys Sandgren begin singles play Wednesday with the round of 64. Smith and fellow senior Boris Conkic, the top-ranked doubles pair for the last two months, open doubles competition on Thursday.
Williams is seeded fourth in the singles tournament and faces Virginia's No. 3 singles player Sanam Singh, who is coming off a 4-3 loss to Southern California in Tuesday's team finals. Last season, Williams advanced to the round of 16 to earn All-America honors as a freshman.
The Knoxville native finished 2-0 in the Vols' two matches in the NCAA team tournament and enters Wednesday with a 37-9 record. He is the most recent national individual champion in college tennis, having captured the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships in November. He held the No. 1 national ranking during the first two months of the year.
Like Williams, Smith is also seeded in the tournament, this time as a 9-16 seed. Now in his final collegiate tournament, Smith has been seeded in the NCAA field the last three years, and as a freshman, he upset his way in the 2008 NCAA singles final.
Smith opens the tournament against George Coupland, who plays No. 2 singles for Mississippi State.
Sandgren is making his first main draw appearance in a national collegiate event. He plays 9-16 seed Reid Carleton of Duke, who has spent much of the spring season ranked in the top 10. Sandgren has a career-high 33 victories this season.
Because they are seeded in the tournament, both Smith and Williams met a qualification for ITA All-America honors in singles. Sandgren must win his first two matches to earn the national honors.
Smith and Conkic earned All-America honors in doubles by being seeded No. 1 in the 32-team draw. In June, Smith will become Tennessee's first four-time All-America. Conkic, a four-time All-SEC recipient, will become the Vols' 30th All-America recipient.
Only one Vol has won the NCAA Singles Championships, and he is on court for all the Vols' matches nowadays. Associate head coach Chris Woodruff entered the 1993 tournament ranked first and stayed true to the seeding, winning the title with a quick 6-3, 6-1 victory over Wade McGuire of Georgia.
Tennessee also has one NCAA doubles champion. Mel Purcell and Rodney Harmon, the Vols' 1980 stars at Nos. 1 and 2 singles, teamed up to form one of the most formidable combinations in UT history. Seeded No. 1, they rolled to the NCAA doubles title and finished with a 33-2 record.
Both former Vols are now in the ITA Hall of Fame, as is Woodruff.
Smith is the only other Vol to even reach the NCAA singles final. Not only that, he has also reached the doubles title match twice with Davey Sandgren in 2009 and 2010.
NCAA Singles Championships
Round of 64
All times Eastern
Tennys Sandgren, UT, vs. (9-16) Reid Carleton, Duke, 3:30 p.m.
(9-16) John-Patrick Smith, UT, vs. George Coupland, Mississippi State, 4:30 p.m.
(4) Rhyne Williams, UT, vs. Sanam Singh, Virginia, 6 p.m.
NCAA Doubles Championships
Round of 32
(1) Boris Conkic/John-Patrick Smith, UT, vs. Matt Allare/Peter Kobelt, Ohio State