After advancing to its first-ever ITA National Team Indoor Championship, the Tennessee men’s tennis team fell to two-time defending national champion and No. 2-ranked Virginia on Monday 4-1.
The No. 5-ranked Vols defeated No. 12-ranked Illinois (4-0), No. 3-ranked UCLA (4-2) and No. 8-ranked Texas (4-1) to reach the finals of the event, hosted by the University of Virginia at the Boar’s Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, Va.
The Vols began the day by sweeping the doubles portion of the event against the Cavaliers. The 2009 Campbell/ITA National Doubles Team of the Year of John-Patrick Smith and Davey Sandgren defeated the team of Michael Shabaz and Drew Courtney 8-1, and the No. 12-ranked tandem of Rhyne Williams and Boris Conkic won its match against Jarmere Jenkins and Houston Barrick, 8-2.
“I thought we played great doubles against Virginia, but we just couldn’t carry the momentum into singles,” Conkic said. “We lost a lot of first sets (in the singles), and that really hurt us.”
In singles play, the Vols faced a Cavalier team that had all six of its players ranked among the top 60 in the nation. Virginia jumped on top of the Vols early by winning the first set in five of the six singles matches. UT head coach Sam Winterbotham believed that was the turning point in the championship.
“We had a small window of opportunity in singles to really take the crowd out of the match, and we did not seize that opportunity,” Winterbotham said. “We really needed to play well to do that, and to Virginia’s credit, they played like their backs were against the wall. They knew the (first set) would be critical to them.”
Virginia got its first point of the match when No. 58-ranked Barrick defeated UT’s Matteo Fago in two sets 6-2, 6-4. Sandgren then fell in two sets to No. 28-ranked Singer 2-6, 5-7.
No. 3 Shabaz defeated No. 2 Smith, 6-4, 6-4 to avenge the loss he suffered to the 2009 ITA/D’Novo All-American Singles and Doubles Champion in the fall. It was Smith’s first loss of the season, ending his 13-match winning streak dating back to last season.
Virginia secured their third straight national championship when No. 31-ranked Courtney defeated Tennys Sandgren in three sets 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
“We needed to win more first sets,” Winterbotham said. “After we did lose the first set, we just went down too quickly in the second sets on a couple of courts. That kills your chances to really give people like Boris (Conkic) time to turn the match around on their courts.”
The tennis team will return to the courts on Sunday when they face Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C. The Vols won’t have a home match until March 12 when they host SEC rival Vanderbilt.