Conkic, Smith lead Vols in first round of NCAAs

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (utsports.com) -- Tennessee seniors Boris Conkic and John-Patrick Smith played Friday’s opening round of the NCAA Tennis Championships like it was their last match.

With that effort, they earned themselves one final appearance in Knoxville in front of the home crowd and a chance to advance to the final NCAA tournament site.

Conkic and Smith teamed up in doubles and both picked up straight-set victories in singles to propel the third-seeded Vols to a 4-0 shutout of Radford inside the Goodfriend Tennis Center.

While the match ended in a whitewash, Tennessee’s victory did not come as easily as the score suggested. After winning the doubles point, the Vols and Radford each took three first sets in singles before Smith, Conkic and sophomore Tennys Sandgren finished the job for Tennessee (22-4).

“Boris and JP played like seniors that didn’t want this to be their last match,” Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. “I thought we had a group that didn’t have that same urgency. Tomorrow’s going to be a much better day. I can sense it. We’ve already talked about it.”

The Vols face Virginia Tech in the second round Saturday at 3 p.m. at Barksdale Stadium in what will be the final home appearance for four-time All-SEC recipients Conkic and Smith as well as fellow senior Matteo Fago.

Virginia Tech beat Vanderbilt 4-2 in a four-hour match to start competition Friday. The winner of the match between the Vols and Virginia Tech advances to the round of 16 in Palo Alto, Calif.

Tennessee and Radford (22-4) started outdoors at Barksdale Stadium, but storms forced action inside Goodfriend Tennis Center just a few games into doubles play. Once inside, the Vols took control of doubles on the first two courts.

Tennys Sandgren and Rhyne Williams were off the court first with their seventh consecutive victory, beating Stijn Meulemans and Igor Ogrizek 8-3. Conkic and Smith, the nation’s top-ranked duo, followed with an 8-2 win on court 1 over Ivan Salec and Thomas Dehaen.

In singles, Smith, Conkic and Sandgren quickly led the way.

Smith put the Vols up 2-0 by collecting his 33rd consecutive win at home, beating Ivan Salec 6-2, 6-1 on court 1. Not long after, Conkic strung together one of his most lopsided victories in months by defeating Joe Mills 6-1, 6-2 on court 4.

Sandgren, who has been the most consistent member of the Vols’ lineup this spring, provided the finishing point. He downed Igor Ogrizek 6-3, 6-2 to preserve the shutout and improve to 20-1 in dual matches at the No. 3 position.

Outside the three singles wins, however, the matches on the remaining courts started out in Radford’s favor. Fago and sophomore Edward Jones both lost their first sets on courts 5 and 6, and Williams, ranked third nationally, lost his opening set in a tiebreaker 7-6 (1) to Nick Sayer on court 2.

“You’re not always going to have your best match the first round, and you don’t really want that,” Smith said. “You want to lead into it a little bit. At the same time, you don’t want to slip up and lose. Today was a good building block, and tomorrow we’re going to get better. It’s going to be a tough match against Virginia Tech.”

The Vols’ last meeting with Virginia Tech was also in the second round of the NCAA Championships on Tennessee’s home courts in 2008. The Vols swept that match 4-0 on their way to the round of 16.

Tennessee is now 16-1 in first- and second-round matches played in Knoxville. Between regular-season and NCAA matches, the Vols have won 34 consecutive at home dating back to 2009.

To Note: With John-Patrick Smith’s wins in singles and doubles, he tied Byron Talbot (1985-88) for the Tennessee career record for combined singles and doubles wins with 292. Smith, who will also play for his 150th career singles win Saturday, has 149 singles and 142 doubles victories. He is the UT career leader in doubles and ranks second behind Talbot in singles.

Tennessee 4, Radford 0

Singles
1. #11 John-Patrick Smith (UT) def. #124 Ivan Salec (RU) 6-2, 6-1
2. #3 Rhyne Williams (UT) vs. Nick Sayer (RU) 6-7 (1-7), 3-3, DNF
3. #45 Tennys Sandgren (UT) def. Igor Ogrizek (RU) 6-3, 6-2
4. Boris Conkic (UT) def. Joe Mills (RU) 6-1, 6-2
5. #80 Matteo Fago (UT) vs. Stijn Meulemans (RU) 5-7, 3-4, DNF
6. Edward Jones (UT) vs. Thomas Dehaen (RU) 4-6, 4-2, DNF

Doubles
1. #1 Boris Conkic/John-Patrick Smith (UT) def. Ivan Salec/Thomas Dehaen (RU) 8-2
2. #72 Tennys Sandgren/Rhyne Williams (UT) def. Stijn Meulemans/Igor Ogrizek (RU) 8-3
3. Matteo Fago/Edward Jones (UT) vs. Joe Mills/Nick Sayer (RU) 6-5, DNF

Order of finish: Doubles (2); Singles (1,4,3)


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