The Tennessee Men’s tennis team is set to begin the 2009 season with lofty expectations. The Intercollegiate Tennis Association named the Vols the eighth best tennis squad heading into the season in their initial poll released on Tuesday.
“I think it’s a reflection on what we did last year, but to be honest it doesn’t mean anything to me right now,” associate head coach Chris Woodruff said. “What matters to me is where we are ranked at the end of the season. (Head coach) Sam (Winterbotham) and I are excited to get this season started. We have a lot of returnees and some very talented newcomers, but with the loss of (two-time All-American) Kaden (Hensel), they all are going to have to step up their play.”
Last season, UT went 23-4 and ended Georgia’s 40-match win streak in the SEC. The Vols advanced to the round of 16 at the NCAA tournament. Tennessee returns with five of the six members of its singles lineup from last season but did lose Hensel to graduation, who played at the top spot in the lineup.
Ohio State begins the season in the top spot with Texas second. Defending National Champion Georgia is third, while UCLA and Virginia round out the top five.
The Vols are the second highest ranked team in the Southeastern Conference. Ole Miss and Florida are immediately behind UT in the rankings in ninth and 10th. Overall, eight SEC schools are ranked in the top 30.
The Big Orange once again faces one of the nation’s toughest schedules. Sixteen of UT’s 17 scheduled matches, not counting the Blue-Gray Intercollegiate in March, are against ranked opponents.
The first individual rankings of the season were also released Tuesday. John-Patrick Smith is the highest ranked Vol at 51st. The 2008 SEC Freshman of the Year and runner-up for the NCAA singles championship ended last season ranked 15th in the singles poll.
The singles rankings are based on a formula that calculates opponents’ ranking. Smith had a successful Fall but did not play a lot of matches against the nation’s elite. UT’s strong schedule will give the Vol’s top netter a chance to play many of the nation’s top ranked players, and he will have ample opportunity to move back up to where he finished last season.
Sophomore Boris Conkic is ranked 104th in the initial poll for the season. The Serbia native has been ranked as high as 28th in his short UT career. Last season, Conkic went 28-6 to finish with a team-high winning percentage of .824.
Conkic and fellow sophomore Matteo Fago are ranked 21st in the initial doubles poll of the season. Conkic and Fago went 8-1 last season paired together, including a 6-1 mark in dual-match competition.
The Vols begin the 2009 season Jan. 16 when they travel to Lexington, Ky., to participate in the SEC Coaches’ Indoor Championships.