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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tennessee's Smith Claims Two Championships at ITA D'Novo All-American

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Tulsa OK--

Of the two unusual occurrences Sunday in Tulsa, JP Smith's pair of titles were certainly viewed more positively by the spectators than temperatures that failed to reach the 50 degree mark, nearly 30 degrees below normal for this time of year in Oklahoma.

Under gloomy skies, in front of only a few shivering fans, the Tennessee junior collected his school's first All-American singles title with a 7-6(7), 6-3 victory over Oklahoma's Andrei Daescu, then won two doubles matches with teammate Boris Conkic to join Harvard's James Blake and Mississippi State's Daniel Courcol as the only players to sweep the All-American titles.

In the singles final, played prior to the doubles semifinals and finals, Smith, the No. 2 seed, and the unseeded Daescu started nervously in the first few games. Although there were six breaks of serve in the first set, midway through its 80 minutes the level of play rose noticeably, with lengthy points more often ending with winners than errors.

At 5-5 in the first, Daescu was broken when Smith stroked a backhand pass at 30-40, but Smith was unable to serve out the set, double faulting at 6-5, 30-40 to settle for a tiebreaker. Daescu took a 5-3 lead in the tiebreaker with a deft drop shot winner, but he said later that he thought the next point cost him the match.

"The momentum was with me after I broke him at 6-5," said Daescu, who had won all five of the tiebreakers he played in his previous matches. "I played well in the first couple of points in the tiebreaker but I interrupted that momentum when I double faulted at 5-3. To be honest, right now I feel like that cost me the whole match."

Smith had set points at 6-5 and 7-6, but Daescu's two clutch backhand winners kept him alive. On the third, at 8-7, Smith was able to force an overhead error on his lob, a tactic that proved successful against Daescu, who approached the net often to finish points. It was a long, tense set, and perhaps unsurprising that Smith would lose the opening game of the second set and fall behind 2-0.

"I got down an early break like I did yesterday in the second set against Farah," the Australian said, referring to his semifinal match with the third seed from Southern California. "I knew I had to compete well to win, so I forgot about it and just moved on, and played a really good second set."

Serving at 3-4, Daescu saved one break point, but sent a forehand feet long on the second, and suddenly Smith was serving for the match. Unlike the nervous game he played when serving for the first set, the 2008 NCAA finalist hit four first serves to close out what was certainly the match's shortest game.

"I connected on four serves in a row," Smith said. "I don't think I've done that all tournament. But it's good to save it for the end."

Daescu was gracious in defeat.

"He's definitely a smart player, really good touch, good serve, a lefty--it's hard to play against lefties," the senior from Romania said. "Overall he's very solid, doesn't give away free points. He plays the important points well. He didn't win today because he was luckier than me, he won because he was better."

Smith had no time to enjoy his victory, because minutes after the presentation and photographs he was back on the court for the doubles semifinal. He and Conkic downed No. 3 seeds Mortiz Baumann and Marek Michalicka of Wisconsin 8-3, and in the interest of making their 4:30 flight back to Knoxville, took only a brief rest before the final against Oklahoma State's Aleksey Bessonov and Oleksandr Nedovyesov, who were also unseeded.

Smith and Conkic had not played together before--Smith had reached the NCAA doubles final in May with Davey Sandgren--but aside from perhaps more calls of "yours" and "mine" than usual, there was no sign of unfamiliarity.

"We only had a couple of practices together before this tournament, but we've known each other for two years, so I guess we know what our strengths are, and we used them well in this tournament," said Conkic, a junior from Serbia who is also left-handed.

"It's really different, a different combination, but he plays well and we complement each other well, so it was good," Smith said.

The Volunteers were ahead throughout the pro set, although the Oklahoma State pair had gotten it back on serve with a break of Smith at 3-1, only to see Nedovyesov drop his serve in the next game. Leading 6-4, Conkic survived a break point for 7-4, and on their second match point with Bessonov serving, they secured Tennessee's second All-American doubles title. In 1986, Shelby Cannon and Byron Talbot won the school's first.

"To have two guys, to win both singles and doubles, it's really special," said associate head coach Chris Woodruff. "Hopefully we'll have this feeling at the end of May."

After 11 matches in four days, Smith admitted to some exhaustion, and although he has an 8 a.m. American history class on Monday morning awaiting him, his first thought was of rest and food.

"It won't be long before I have to get up and go back to school tomorrow, but other than that, it's been good," said Smith, who is the first to sweep both titles since Blake in 1998. "I don't know what to say right now. Get something to eat and to sleep, and I'll be good."

In consolation singles, SMU's Robin Fahgen defeated Dimitar Kutrovsky of Texas 6-2, 7-5. Fahgen, a senior from Sweden, did not lose a set in his five consolation wins.

For complete draws, see the ITA tournament site.

In the Women's ITA Riviera All-American, No. 8 seed Irina Falconi of Georgia Tech downed No. 2 seed Chelsey Gullickson of Georgia 6-2, 6-1 to add a singles title to the doubles championships she won there last year. Tennessee captured its third All-American title of the day when 2009 NCAA semifinalists Natalie Pluskota and Caitlyn Whoriskey defeated Lauren Embree and Allie Will 3-6, 6-1, 6-0.

For complete draws, see the ITA tournament site.


5.0 Player said...

Maybe I missed it but did anyone ever explain what the heck happened to the University of Michigan and University of Illinois Men's tennis teams?

U of M is down to 6 players and this cannot be explained by failure to update the roster because the brand new photo with the new freshmen Evan King and Chris Cha show only 6 players! What are they going to do if someone gets injured, forfeit that match? This must be uprecedented in University of Michigan history. And, just when everyone was praising how well Berque had turned around the program now this debacle?

Someone must know what happened to all of their players. Please explain.

collegefan said...

Check out Ok St.'S roster as well as Ole Miss. They only have 5 folks. Wonder if that means basically everyone gets a full scholarship for one semester

Stephen said...

If you look at Michigan's roster from last year, the only players they lost other than to graduation are Drew Daniel and David Streeter. It's possible that Berque is bringing in some players in January, which seems to be common these days.

5.0 Player said...

Thanks for your message, Stephen. Still, what will they do for their Fall matches when someone gets injured?

Then also can someone explain what happened to Streeter and Drew Daniel? Both of those guys are very hard workers.

Frank said...

Where did Daniel and Streeter go?

Stephen said...

5.0 player -- Most college teams only play in individual tournaments during the fall and don't start dual meets until the spring.

Many of the top players take the fall semester off to play in pro tournaments and then enroll in the spring.

ncaafan said...

Daniel and Streeter both basically quit tennis.