Jan. 6, 2010

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Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

The Tennessee Volunteers debuted at No. 5 in the first ITA national rankings of the season released Tuesday, and junior John-Patrick Smith maintained his hold on the No. 2 singles position.

Four Vols were ranked in the top 75, marking the first time four players have been simultaneously ranked in singles since Sam Winterbotham became head coach during the 2006-07 season. Three doubles pairings also reached the top 12.

Tennessee, which ended the 2009 season ranked eighth with a 23-7 record, picked up one first-place vote and was ranked fifth in the team rankings. Defending national champions Southern California was ranked No. 1 with 47 first-place votes, followed by Virginia, Ohio State and UCLA.

"We're proud to be seeded as one of the best teams in the country," Winterbotham said. "We have a great schedule ahead of us, and we're looking forward to facing an opponent to prove that ranking. There are so many great teams. To be ranked among them feels good, and it gives our players motivation to keep improving."

Smith Stays at No. 2

Smith was ranked second when the preseason rankings were released in September, and he held his position after a successful fall that included two singles titles. He is the first Vols player to be ranked in the top 10 by the ITA since Peter Handoyo (1999-2002).

He wrapped up the fall season 16-3 against some of the most talented players in the country. He defeated 8 of 9 ranked opponents, including two players ranked in the top 10. In October, he became the first Vol to win the singles title at the ITA All-American Championships.

Southern California's Steve Johnson rose to the No. 1 spot, vacated by Oklahoma State's Oleksandr Nedovyesov, who fell to No. 15.
Freshman Rhyne Williams was ranked No. 22 after going 13-3 in his first semester of collegiate tennis. The Knoxville native was 6-2 against ranked opponents and earned his first tournament title, winning the Georgia Tech Fall Tournament in October.

"Rhyne is one of the best players in college tennis, and he's really adapted quickly to the college game," Winterbotham said.

Matt Brewer also reached the singles rankings, but it was a long time coming for the fifth-year senior from Knoxville. He finished 8-5 and picked up a pair of wins against ranked opponents - including Oklahoma's top player, Andrei Daescu - to earn a spot at No. 52.

Winterbotham said he was most impressed by Brewer's appearance in the rankings.

"Matt's worked so hard to get to this point, and he has just continued improving," Winterbotham said. "That's really what our program stands for. It's about our guys going out and working hard and just getting better."

Junior Boris Conkic finished the fall 6-4 and was ranked No. 68.

"To have four players ranked, I feel like the program is moving in the right direction," Winterbotham said. "There are a lot of talented players throughout the rankings. We have a guy at 68 who was 21-3 in dual matches last year, and that's proof of how deep the competition is in college tennis this year."

Three Doubles Teams Earn Rankings

Tennessee is the only school to have multiple doubles teams in the top 15 and one of two schools to have more than one team in the top 20.

Smith and Conkic played together for only one tournament, but it was enough to earn them a spot at No. 4, the second time the two lefties have been ranked together in doubles. They defeated four top-20 opponents on their way to the All-American title in October.

Smith also remained in the top 10 in doubles with senior Davey Sandgren, coming in at No. 7. They posted an 11-3 record and reached the finals in four of five tournaments. They ended the 2009 season as the top-ranked team and became just the fifth UT duo in school history to record 50 career wins, reaching the milestone during the fall.

Conkic and Williams, ranked No. 12, emerged as another solid doubles team for the Vols and finished 9-2.

Vols Ranked First in Regional Singles, Doubles List

The rankings from the Ohio Valley Region were also released with three Vols in the top 10: Smith at No. 1, Williams tied at No. 3 and Conkic at No. 6. Sandgren and Smith took the top doubles ranking, and Conkic and Williams came in second. The two teams faced each other in the finals of the ITA Ohio Valley Regional Championships in November, and Conkic and Williams won in a close match 8-6.

The next team rankings will be released Jan. 26. Singles and doubles rankings will not be released again until Feb. 18.