Sept. 23, 2010
Like every other member of the team, senior Matteo Fago is ready for the fall season to begin.
He doesn't have much longer to wait.
Fago is one of four Vols headed to the UVa Ranked Plus One Invitational, which begins Friday in Charlottesville, Va. The rest of the squad is playing in the Southern Intercollegiate Championships in Athens, Ga., for the weekend.
The native of Ceprano, Italy, is coming off a career year in which he finished 34-9 in singles. He also ended the season on a five-match doubles winning streak with Edward Jones, and the two were named to the NCAA Championships All-Tournament Team for perfect play at the No. 3 position.
When it comes to team success, Fago has enjoyed a great deal of that too. He joined the program three seasons ago with fellow seniors John-Patrick Smith and Boris Conkic, and the trio have been part of 77 dual match victories since, which is the most wins in a three-year period in Tennessee history.
Not to forget the Vols also clinched the regular season and tournament Southeastern Conference titles in April. The team was honored on the field after the first quarter of last week's football game against Florida at Neyland Stadium.
In this season-opening Q&A, Fago discusses the start of his senior season, summer in Italy his trumpet-playing abilities and much more.
Q: We're still a few weeks into school, so let's talk a little bit about summer vacation. What did you do during your break?
A: First of all, I spent the first month here because I had to take care of two classes. Then I went home in July. I played some tennis and then spent lots of time with my family and girlfriend back home. It was very nice because I don't get to go home much. I went on holiday after that.
Q: When you go home, what's the first thing you look forward to doing?
A: I really enjoy spending time with my family because I miss that part of my life a lot while I'm here. It's usually family meals and spending time with my mom, my grandma, my whole family pretty much.
My grandma is the best cook in my family. She loves to cook and she's the one who always wants to do something for the whole family. She usually makes lasagna or gnocchi. There's always so much stuff. I don't really have a favorite meal, but it's always good.
(Laughs) She says she always has to feed me for the whole year because I won't be home for Easter or birthdays or anything. And she says I have to eat for the whole year while I'm home, so she cooks 24-7.
Q: That's quite a challenge, both cooking and eating. So, the team has been back and doing a lot of conditioning the last few weeks. What's that been like?
A: We've been training a lot, and our workouts have been really, really good so far. Our strength coach, Herman Demmink, is amazing. He always challenges us with very specific workouts. That part has been much, much better since I got here my freshman year. We specialize more in tennis and tennis workouts. Before that, it was more broad. I feel much better now, and I think my shape has gotten better lately because of the workouts.
Q: Players I've talked with so far say they're really excited about the season finally starting. How about you? Are you ready to finally play a tournament?
A: Yeah, I am. I'm very excited to start again. I want to prove everyone that our team is still one of the best. It feels good to start over knowing that we're a favorite again. Last year, we had expectations, but we didn't know that we were that good. Now, we have to use the confidence we got from last year to repeat ourselves and eventually improve last year's season.
Q: Of course, it's your senior year. What are your personal expectations for the season?
A: This year, the way it's started, I'm really trying to enjoy it as much as possible. I still love studying, learning new things, but I'd like to focus on enjoying it because I know it's my last one. I won't experience these things for the rest of my life, this college atmosphere and all these good things. I want to spend time with my teammates and all my friends here.
Q: Now that you're one of the older guys on the team, do you feel like you've taken on a sort of leadership role? Does it feel any different?
A: I think it does. I feel like the team respects me, but I'm not usually one of those guys who talks a lot or likes to say things. I usually like to give advice or if someone is having some problems, I'll talk to them and ask what's wrong. But I don't talk a lot. That's just my personality. I just like to say something when it needed to be said.
Q: I'm going to change gears to ask some random questions. First off, if you could play any other sport at Tennessee, regardless of whether you've ever played it or even think you'd be good at it, which would it be?
A: That's too easy of a question. Football. After experiencing being on the field last Saturday when we saw all the people cheering for us and that big crowd, I think it's something special. I wouldn't like playing football, but I would just love to be in that atmosphere.
Q: What was that moment like, being able to go out on the field during the game?
A: It was a reward for all the work we've done so far, and we really enjoyed it. It was nice to see that the school appreciates what we're doing. Sometimes, it's good to know that people are supporting you so you have more motivation to keep going. Otherwise, you feel like no one is paying attention.
Q: Here's another random question that a lot of people asked back in January: what's the story behind you cutting your hair short? It used to be really long.
A: (Laughs) First of all, I got tired of having long hair. I'd wash it after practice, and then have to go to class with it wet. It was really cold and I was always getting sick. I figured I'd had long hair long enough, and now was the time to change. I got tired of it. It was too long. It couldn't fit in my hat, so I always had to find something to fix it. So I just decided to cut it.
Either I have my hair really long or really short, so it's hard for me to get it in the middle. I just decided to shave it off, so it was a big change. I would walk around and see friends, and they wouldn't recognize me at first. It was that big of a change.
Then a week after, the whole team shaved their heads! That was really good.
Q: Does that make you a trend setter?
A: Probably, yeah. I started and everyone just followed.
Q: But you couldn't get JP to shave his head. What's up with that?
A: Nah, he just ran away. He was afraid of not looking good. He was scared.
Q: I remember reading that you played the trumpet. How did you get started playing?
A: My dad is a guitar player, and he played a lot growing up. When I was younger, he guided me to music. First of all, I picked drums. Then I got tired of it. Most of the reason is because I played in a band. I had to walk around, and it was really heavy. I changed to the trumpet, and I really like that. I kept playing but eventually I got to the point where I had to decide if I should play tennis or the trumpet.
Q: Was that a hard decision at all?
A: I really loved playing music, but it wasn't too hard a decision because I was doing really well at tennis. And I liked tennis more. I still miss playing trumpet, especially now, since I don't have much time. I've kind of quit it now. Plus, it's so loud, I can't play it in my room. Just sometimes.
Q: Now, one more music questions: I've asked some of the guys who would be the lead singer if the team formed a rock band, and they said you because you could pull off the rock star personality. What do you think about that?
A: I would do it if I had a better voice. To be honest, I don't think I have the capability to do that right now. Maybe if I practice. I do think I have the character to be a singer, but I don't think my skills would be good enough to keep the crowd.