May 30, 2010
ATHENS, Ga. -- Once again, the NCAA Doubles Championship boils down to two teams: Tennessee and Virginia.
The 2010 final features three-fourths of the competitors from the 2009 championship, a match in which Davey Sandgren and John-Patrick Smith lost to Virginia's Michael Shabaz and Dominic Inglot 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 in College Station, Texas.
One year later, Sandgren, Smith and Shebaz are back for Monday's final match. The only person new to the championship mix this season is Virginia's Drew Courtney, a 6-foot-5 sophomore with a big serve.
The doubles championship begins at noon. A live interactive blog is available at UTSports.com. Streaming live video and scoring can be found at ncaa.com.
The Vols have faced the Virginia's top pairing once this season, defeating Shabaz and Courtney 8-1 in the finals of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in February. At that point, Shabaz and Courtney had only started to play with each other as a pairing. Shabaz began the season playing primarily with teammate Sanam Singh.
"It is a little déjà vu seeing them in the final again," said Shabaz. "You have no control over who you face, you just have to go out and play against whoever is on the other side of the net.
"The first match was different because it was indoors and an eight-game pro set. Tomorrow is going to be a close match and whoever plays the bigger points better is going to come out on top."
The Record Holders
Sandgren and Smith set the Tennessee record for doubles wins in a season with 41 when they defeated North Carolina's Clay Donato and Stefan Hardy on Sunday. They have a chance to add one more win to that total Monday.
The Vol duo has a 41-8 record this season, so they will appropriately end the year in championship with their 50th match.
Byron Talbot and Shelby Cannon had held the school record for 22 years. They finished a similar 40-9 in 1986 but only reached the second round of the NCAA championships.
The Last Hurrah
For Sandgren, the end has arrived. Monday marks his final collegiate match.
The senior from Gallatin, Tenn., has been a driving force on the Vols the last four seasons. He has earned ITA All-America honors twice in doubles and has been named All-SEC twice, including this season.
He has played a major part of the Vols' four-year climb up the rankings. Tennessee was ranked 50th in the country before Sandgren started playing for the Vols in the fall of 2006. He leaves a program that finished 2010 ranked third in the nation and reached the NCAA championship match for the third time in program history.
In terms of numbers, Sandgren has accounted for 84 singles victories, which ranks 14th on the UT career list. He ended the season 18-8 and won his final six matches playing from the sixth position.
In doubles, well, the legacy is clear. Sandgren became just the third UT player to reach 100 career doubles victories in March and now has 118. Not bad for a player who described his doubles play as "horrible" when he started with the Vols as a freshman.
Appropriately, Smith joined him as the fourth player to achieve his 100th win a month later.
Sandgren and Smith enter the championship match with 79 victories, which is second-most in UT history. They won a pair of tournament titles together: the 2009 SEC Indoor Championships and the UVa Ranked Plus One Invitational last fall.
110 and 110
With the victory Sunday, Smith now has 110 victories in both singles and doubles, which places him fairly high up the career list in both categories with one season left to go.
The junior from Townsville, Australia, is currently seventh on the singles career list after a 41-9 season. Smith is ranked behind Sandgren for fourth in career doubles.
Smith is easily on pace to eventually become Tennessee's all-time leader in career doubles wins. Talbot is only 21 wins away with 131 doubles victories from 1985-88. Smith has won 45 doubles matches this season.
Been There Already
At this point, the NCAA can pretty much assume Smith will be playing for a championship of some kind next season. All three years of his career, he has reached an individual title match at the NCAA Tennis Championship.
An an unseeded freshman, Smith upset his way into the singles championship match, eventually losing to No. 1-ranked Somdev Devvarmann of Virginia. Last year, Sandgren and Smith came up short in three sets against Virginia's Inglot and Shabaz. Smith has won two national individual titles already this season, both of them coming in the same afternoon. He became the third player to ever win the singles and doubles titles at the ITA All-American Championships in October.
Smith won the doubles crown with fellow junior Boris Conkic, and the two of them remain ranked seventh nationally, though they've played five matches together.
The Vols have one NCAA doubles championship in program history, which came in 1980. Rodney Harmon and Mel Purcell defeated Trinity's Tony Giammalva and Johnny Benson 7-6, 7-6 for the championship.
Harmon and Purcell finished a stellar 33-2 in 1980, which remains the UT record for winning percentage in a season 30 years later. Harmon was inducted into the ITA Men's Collegiate Hall of Fame last week.
Monday marks the Vols' fourth appearance in the doubles title match. Sandgren and Smith reached the final last year. Michael Fancutt and Andy Kohlberg did the same in 1979.