Freshly reunited UT doubles partners Jarryd Chaplin and Brandon Fickey concluded their fall season in victorious fashion last weekend by capturing the title at the USTA Collegiate Clay Court Invitational in Orlando, Fla.
The duo went 5-0 in the tournament and defeated North Florida's Norbert Nemscek Jack Findel-Hawkins in a grueling final 8-7 (4).
"It was the first time we had played together this fall," Fickey said. "So we were just happy to get back out there and see what we could do."
In the final, the pair trailed two break points down 5-2. In Division I tennis, doubles matches are played to eight. With a mountain to climb in order to secure the title, the partners dug deep and pulled off a remarkable comeback.
"We both went into the final with a little bit of nerves," Fickey said, a Knoxville native. "But, we eventually settled in and knew that we would have to work as a team and not individually and that was the biggest thing for us to turn the match around and win."
For Chaplin, an Australian and one of only two seniors in the program, the belief was there from the onset.
"There were a lot of good teams there," Chaplin said. "But we wanted to win it. And, after we won the first round, I absolutely knew we could win the tournament."
Fickey and Chaplin only occasionally played together in the past as UT tried out various doubles combinations. Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese, the current No. 1 doubles team in the country, individually partnered with Fickey and Chaplin before settling in together this season.
Chaplin believes the switch was an overall blessing for the sixth-ranked Volunteers after the success the UT doubles teams have experienced this fall. Libietis and Reese captured the ITA All-American Championships.
And for Chaplin, there has been an added level of comfort playing with Fickey, whose more modern approach blends perfectly with Chaplin's traditional serve-and-volley style.
"I leave the ground strokes to Fickey," laughed Chaplin.
"He's got exceptional volleys," said Fickey about his partner. "I'm more of the guy who hangs on the baseline, where I can just keep ripping the ball and leave him to do the work at the net."
Although an apparent odd couple, in terms of passion for the game the two are one in the same.
"I think we're both pretty fiery players," Fickey said. "We're not scared to get in people's faces or back down from a challenge."
"I think [tennis] should be more like hockey," added Chaplin with some wit. "If there's a disputed ball, we should be able to have a crack at each other until somebody goes down."
The partners, despite the obvious joy from their win in Orlando, still believe there are improvements to be made in order to help UT to the SEC and national championships in the spring. With Chaplin more experienced in doubles play, Fickey is working to catch up after being mostly a singles player throughout his career.
"Doubles is kind of something that I've had to learn," Fickey said. "It's something that I've had to keep working at and now I think it's finally starting to click in terms of how to play good doubles and be a good partner on the court."
Chaplin and Fickey are hoping to feature together in the upcoming Knoxville Challenger (Nov. 5-10), a professional tournament on the ATP circuit where former Vols Tennys Sandgren and Rhyne Williams will also be competing. The event would be their last action together before the spring opener on Jan. 18 against Tennessee Tech.
In regards to the pressure of backing up the much-acclaimed duo of Libietis and Reese when Division 1 tennis does return, Chaplin believes he and Fickey are on track to provide the perfect support and keep their teammates on their toes.
"In terms of consistency, they're strides ahead of us," Chaplin said. "But if last week is anything to go by, we'll be right behind them for sure."