May 27, 2013
The French Open, the second Grand Slam of the professional tennis season, is just underway with former Vol Rhyne Williams just taking the court for his opening round match.
Once again, Williams and John-Patrick Smith will be representing Tennessee in a Grand Slam. The two former collegiate No. 1s have made significant strides since appearing in the Australian Open in January. Williams reached his first ATP semifinal in Houston and Smith cracked the top 100 in doubles.
As the tennis world directs its attention to the red clay of Paris, here are a few Tennessee notes:
1. THREE CONSECUTIVE SLAMSWilliams lost in the final round of French Open qualifying to Poland's Michal Przysienzny, but as main draw competitors pulled out of the tournament, he was selected for the main draw as a lucky loser.
By strange coincidence, Williams is facing Przysiezny again in the first round of the main draw. The two have faced twice already this year, with Williams winning 7-6, 6-1 on the hard courts of ATP Sydney qualifying. Przysiezny won last week's rematch 6-4, 6-4. Their meeting today will be best of five sets.
Reaching the Grand Slam field has become routine for Williams over the last year. He qualified for the U.S. Open last September, losing to Andy Roddick on center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium. After winning the USTA's wild card playoff for the Australian Open, he held match points before falling to German Florian Meyer 2-6, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (12), 6-1.
This is Williams' second tournament in Europe and his fifth tournament on clay this year. He notably went from qualifying to reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships, an ATP 250 event in April. Since the Australian Open, the 2011 NCAA singles finalist also won his first Challenger event in Dallas, Texas.
2. AUTOMATIC ENTRYSmith's appearance in the French Open signals a notable step in his career. This week marks the first time Smith has entered the main draw of a Grand Slam on his ranking alone. No wild cards or qualifying were needed.
Smith will play with No. 2 Australian Marinko Matosevic for the first time. They take on the French wild card pair of Jonathan Danieres De Veigy and Florent Serra later in the week.
Smith found out about his acceptance into the French Open shortly after cheering on the Vols' 4-2 win over Mississippi State in the round of 16 in the NCAA Championships in Illinois.
Earlier this year, Smith collected his first win at a Grand Slam as he and John Peers teamed up for a first-round victory at their home Australian Open. After this tournament, Smith will again play the brief European grass court season.
3. TOP FRENCH OPEN PERFORMANCESAssociate head coach Chris Woodruff played in the main draw at Roland Garros five times in his career, reaching the third round three times. One of his most memorable career victories came in his debut in 1996 when he knocked of then-No. 3 Andre Agassi in a five-set thriller 4-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2. The match was referenced in some detail in Agassi's 2009 autobiography "Open."
Mel Purcell, the 1980 NCAA doubles champion, recorded the Vols' best results at the French Open. In back-to-back years in 1981 and 1982, he reached the fourth round. His runs were ended by American greats Jimmy Connors (1981) and Vitas Gerulaitis (1982). Purcell was 11-6 in his singles career at Roland Garros.
In doubles, the quarterfinals is the best result for any Vol on the French Open's red clay. Purcell was also a doubles quarterfinalist in 1981. Annacone played his way into the quarterfinals in 1985. The Vols' all-time wins leader Byron Talbot did the same most recently in 1996.