Dec. 17, 2011
BY AMANDA PRUITT
NORCROSS, Ga. -- Former Vol Rhyne Williams defeated one American tennis veteran to start the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs, but he could not replicate that feat Saturday in the semifinals.
Williams' bid for a wild card into the first Grand Slam of 2012 was stopped short in a 7-5, 6-2 loss to 2005 U.S. Open semifinalist Robby Ginepri at the Racquet Club of the South.
Coming off a marathon three-set victory over top-seeded Bobby Reynolds the day before, Williams faced a very physical match against Ginepri, who kept the Knoxville native on the run along the baseline from start to finish.
"For the most part I played well," Williams said. "I competed really hard. I gave it all that I had. I was probably a little worn out from yesterday. I was definitely sore, but I feel like I played pretty well."
The pivotal moment came with Ginepri serving at 5-5 in the first set. Williams had five break point chances in the game, but the 29-year-old veteran was able to hold steady despite three potentially costly errors.
With the game at deuce, Ginepri had three chances to put away sure-thing volleys, but missed on all three would-be winners. Two volleys went straight down into the net, and on the third, Ginepri mishit an overhead off the frame of his racquet and the ball sailed 15 feet over Williams' head and out of play.
While those points seemingly gave Williams an advantage in the game, the stunned reactions from the sold-out crowd coupled with the unusual nature of the plays made it difficult for the former Vol to remain locked in and close out the break.
"He missed some sitter volleys right on the net, and that was crazy," Williams said. "I know he's not very comfortable at the net, but that was really unlike him to miss those easy shots.
"The crowd was ooh-ing and ah-ing, and I could tell he was getting flustered. It was a little hard to stay focused. It was kind of a funky game, and that's the way it goes sometimes."
After Ginepri finally held serve to lead 6-5, he broke Williams' serve and took the first set 7-5.
"That 5-5 game was huge," Williams said. "If I had gotten that game, I really feel like I would have at least won the first set."
Fatigue really started taking its toll on Williams as the match progressed.
His grinding 4-6, 6-4, 10-8 upset of top-seeded Reynolds in Friday's first round took nearly 3 1/2 hours and had understandably left him tired entering the semifinal. By contrast, Ginepri was off the court in half that time in his 7-6, 6-0 opening win over Steve Johnson.
"It was tough to get control of the points," Williams said. "He stands on top of the baseline and he's really good at taking time away from you. That's what he does best. He steps into the court and uses your pace. He uses really good placement with his shots. That's why he was a semifinalist of the US Open, just because he does that so well."
Ginepri plays recent Knoxville Challenger champion Jesse Levine in the finals Sunday.
Williams has only a few weeks of rest and preparation before the 2012 season kicks off. He plans to compete in three of the four USTA $10,000 Futures events in Florida to start the year. All three tournaments will be on clay courts near his new home in Boca Raton, Fla.