Sept. 18, 2011
BY AMANDA PRUITT
Both Vols earned their first collegiate singles and doubles titles at Barksdale Stadium.
Libietis defeated fellow freshmen Brandon Fickey 6-3, 7-6 (2) in the final round of the top draw. Nearly an hour later, senior Bryan Swartz celebrated with teammates after coming back from a break down in the third set to beat East Tennessee State's Rogerio Ribeiro 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (1) in the second flight.
"I think it says it all about what Bryan means to this program when he wins the match and his teammates run out on the court as if we've just won a conference or national championship," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "They love the guy. We're so proud of him. He keeps working hard and he's the most solid guy in the world. He's a program maker."
In doubles, Libietis teamed up with sophomore Jarryd Chaplin and cruised past Xavier's Phil Diaz and Brandon MacDonald 8-2 in the final of the orange flight. Swartz and Fickey beat Hugo Klientorsky and Niklas Schroeder 8-6 in the volunteer flight.
Tennessee had been well-represented in the top flight of singles as the weekend tournament progressed. Five Vols reached the quarterfinals, and three of the team's four freshmen made it to the semifinals. In the end, Libietis and Fickey each won four matches to meet in the title match.
After Libietis broke Fickey's serve three times on his way to winning the first set, the match was much closer in the second. Fickey served for the set at 5-4, but Libietis bounced back to win the next two games.
When Fickey served at 5-6 in a game that lasted 15 minutes, Libietis had three match point opportunities, but the Knoxville native spoiled all of them and forced the tiebreaker.
"I thought if I'm going to lose the game, I'm going to lose the match," Libietis said. "But that's what you need to learn: you have to keep focus. It's only one game, not a match."
Once the tiebreaker started, Libietis did not dwell on his missed chances and started rolling with his serves. The 6-foot-2 freshman from Latvia pumped in three aces to take the tiebreaker 7-2 and win the match.
As Libietis and Fickey shook hands at the net, Swartz was facing a little trouble in the third set, as his opponent Ribeiro broke his serve and took a 4-2 lead.
On Saturday, the Vols had stayed in the stands before to cheer Swartz to a three-hour semifinal victory over Robin Akser, and they were in the stands again Sunday to support the senior from Sarasota, Fla., who had never advanced beyond a tournament quarterfinal until this week.
Swartz staved off one match point while serving at 4-5 and eventually forced the tiebreaker. Like Libietis, the serve was Swartz' ally in the final minutes of the match. Getting his first serves in play, he jumped ahead early and picked up steam to win 7-1 in the tiebreaker to win his first title.
"I know by the second and third day, it's tiring sitting in the stands," Swartz said. "I've experienced it my last three years here. It's extremely exhausting trying to give all your energy to the guys on the court. I really needed them yesterday for that three-hour match. They were there for me again today."
All told, Winterbotham was pleased with the Vols' opening weekend.
"What's happening is that there are opportunities out there, so there's no pecking order on the team," Winterbotham said. "Everybody's just trying to find where they fit in the whole thing. That can sometimes free you up. Right now, we have no idea who's playing where. I think you see that across the board, not just with Bryan.
"Brandon Fickey had a great weekend. Hunter Reese was playing was playing excellent tennis before he rolled his ankle (in Saturday's quarterfinals). Mikelis, that guy's a talent. We're going to be seeing a lot of him over the next four years."
The Vols split squads for a pair of tournaments next week. Half the team will travel out west to the Land Rover Napa Valley Classic in St. Helena, Calif. The rest will play in the Southern Intercollegiate Championships in Athens, Ga., one of the nation's largest annual fall college tournaments. Taylor Patrick won the Division III singles title there last season.