Nov. 4, 2009
Tennessee junior John-Patrick Smith is back in the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships, but this time, he's the tournament's top seed. He also won't be the only Volunteer in the select field.
Smith won the ITA All-American Championships earlier this fall to secure the No. 1 seed at the Indoor Championships. He and senior Davey Sandgren earned the top seed in doubles as well.
Junior Boris Conkic and freshman Rhyne Williams also claimed a spot in the 16-team doubles field by virtue of winning the regional championship over Sandgren and Smith two weeks ago, making Tennessee the only school with two doubles teams represented.
Live scoring from New Haven, Conn., will be available at this link. Competition begins Thursday at 10 a.m. Eastern with both doubles teams starting their round of 16 matches.
First in Singles
Last season, Smith was the only Vol to qualify for the Indoor Championships last year and fell in straight sets in the first round, but this year has been different. The fall season has been an extremely successful one so far, even by the two-time All-America's lofty standards.
Smith said one major difference between this season and years past is simply that he played in more events. He has already participated in four singles tournaments this fall and has won two of them: the prestigious All-American and the UVa Ranked Plus One Invitational.
"I've already played more than I did last fall, so it's a bit of a step up -- even though I played in a lot of events last year too," Smith said. "Obviously, I've got a lot of matches under my belt, which is good. Hopefully, I'll be able to string a few wins together."
He entered the season as the second-ranked player nationally by the ITA and has a 13-2 record. He has recorded a perfect 6-0 mark against ranked opponents as well, including a win over third-ranked Robert Farah of Southern California. Because of his fast start this season, he has improved his career record to 80-23 (.777), which ranks fifth on the Vols' career winning percentage list just behind Conkic (.778).
Smith plays UCLA's Amit Inbar in the first round, beginning at approximately 3 p.m.
Sandgren and Smith established themselves as the Vols' top doubles team last year, as well as one of the best in the entire country. They won 32 matches last season, on their way to an appearance in the national championships and a final, No. 1 ranking.
They have picked up where they left off this fall with a 10-2 record and a championship at the UVa Invitational. They won three matches last weekend to give them 49 victories in their career, passing Andy Crews and Peter Handoyo for fifth all-time in UT history. Bobby Cameron and Kaden Hensel -- Smith's former doubles partner -- are fourth on the list with 52 wins.
"Hopefully we can get a few more, with the spring coming up," Smith.
This weekend marks the first national tournament for Sandgren since the NCAA Championships in May, but Smith has already played against some of the top-ranked doubles teams with Conkic at the All-American. Conkic and Smith played their way through the 32-team field to win the event, and Smith became the first player to claim both the singles and doubles All-American titles since 1998.
"We've got a lot of depth, which gives us a lot more options and lot more variety," Smith said. "We can take different teams, especially with team competition next spring and the NCAAs. It gives a lot of confidence to the coaches, knowing that we can pair different combinations together and hold our own on the court."
Conkic and Williams have a 7-1 record as a doubles pair and have won five in a row on their way to the ITA Ohio Valley Regional Championship title. Their biggest victory of the season so far? Defeating top-ranked Sandgren and Smith 8-6 in the finals. Conkic has the longest active doubles winning streak on the Vols, having won 10 consecutive matches dating to the beginning of the All-American.
"I'm hoping we'll be on opposite sides of the draw, and that we'll meet in the finals again like we did in regionals," Sandgren said the day before the draw was released. "I think that can happen."
Sandgren's wish came true Wednesday afternoon when the ITA released the bracket. Sandgren and Smith face Utah's Phillip Eilers and Alex Golding in the first round. On the bottom half of the draw, Conkic and Williams play host Yale's Calvin Bennett and Joel Samaha. If both teams win three matches, they will match up again in the championship match.