July 22, 2009
Tennessee announced Wednesday that Knoxville-native Rhyne Williams has signed with the Vols tennis team. Williams, who ranked as high as No. 8 in the world in the juniors, begins his UT classes in August.
"From the start, assistant coach Chris Woodruff and I planned to attract the best tennis players in the world to the University of Tennessee," head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "We recognized the importance of consistently competing at the highest level to get those players here, which we have done. Our strategy started with recruiting the best players in Tennessee capable of helping us win championships. Next we set our sights on bringing the best U.S. juniors to Tennessee, and finally attracting the best players in the world to come play for our team. This fall we will have five players on our team from the state of Tennessee, with seven players on our team from the United States and five players from abroad.
"When Rhyne signed, he ticked all the boxes! We not only got a great player from the state of Tennessee, but also an elite U.S. Junior, and one of the best junior players in the world. It is an exciting time for our program and the future is extremely bright with these young men representing Tennessee Tennis."
Williams, who has played in the French Open Juniors and U.S. Open Juniors, served as Roger Federer's practice partner at the Master's Open last year. He is the second top-10 Junior in the world to sign with Tennessee in the last two years, joining John-Patrick Smith from 2007.
"Rhyne is the perfect blue chip recruit and has so many intangibles; he is a great team guy, a wonderful student, possesses leadership qualities and truly has the potential to guide Tennessee tennis to a national title," Woodruff said. "I certainly believe he could be the best recruit in Tennessee tennis history. Sam and I are thrilled at the idea of coaching Rhyne."
In addition to Williams, the Volunteers have signed two other top players -- India's Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Great Britain's Edward Jones.
"Prajnesh is currently ranked 907 in the ATP and is one of the top Juniors from his country. Edward has represented his country of Wales and Great Britain as a junior and has consistently been one of the best junior tennis players in Great Britain," Winterbotham said. "We expect both Prajnesh and Ed to have a huge impact on our team as we compete for championships during the next four years. Rhyne, Prajnesh and Edward represent another big step forward for our program."
Tennessee has produced 10 top 100 ATP professionals, including Woodruff, Paul Anacone and Mike DePalmer Jr.
"Our goal is to develop 10 more professional players," Winterbotham said. "We feel we are capable of helping these young men achieve their goals and continue the great tradition Tennessee has in men's tennis. The University of Tennessee is a great school for them to develop their games. They know that if they go to Tennessee they will have a chance to compete for championships. We have a wealth of experience to offer these players, and feel we are equipped as well as any coaching staff in the nation to develop these young men into champions on and off the court."
Tennessee finished the 2008-09 season with a 23-7 record and a No. 8 ranking in the final Campbell/Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll. It marks the second consecutive top-10 finish for the program after ending 2008 with a 23-4 mark. The Vols spent the entire season ranked among the top eight, holding a season-high ranking of No. 4. It is the first time Tennessee finished in the top 10 in consecutive years since a three-year run from 2000-02 when the Vols were third, second and sixth.
In three years at Tennessee, head coach Sam Winterbotham has compiled an impressive 63-19 mark and a 24-9 record in Southeastern Conference play. His teams have reached the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament each of the past two seasons, he has had players make the NCAA finals in singles and doubles each of the two years, and he coached two singles players and two doubles tandems to top 50 rankings this season.
In addition to excellence on the court, Tennessee's men's tennis program had the athletic departments highest GPA in the 2008-09 school year and obtained Academic All-America honors as a team.