Coaches Sam Winterbotham and Chris Woodruff have lauded the 2007 and 2009 classes -- which presently represent the sophomore and senior players, respectively, on the present squad -- as their two strongest recruiting efforts. They're not lying. The standout players from those standout classes are the best players on the team. Let's get to know them a little better. Today I'll talk about the two super sophomores who didn't even have to cross state lines to get to campus. Tomorrow I'll discuss a standout trio of seniors who, in stark contrast to the home-grown sophomores, crossed over various state lines and a sizable pond before serving notice in Knoxville.
If I were to explain Rhyne Williams in football terms, he would be the tennis team's version of Eric Berry. He was the #8 ranked junior player in the world (and he may have peaked out even higher), he could have gone anywhere he wanted, and he thought very seriously about going pro. Like Eric Berry, Rhyne has family ties to his sport of choice, and those family ties are tied strongly to the University of Tennessee. Rhyne's mother, Michelle DePalmer Williams, is a former professional tennis player who played at UT. Rhyne's Uncle, Michael DePalmer Jr., is a former UT standout (third in career singles winning percentage behind only Paul Annacone* and Chris Woodruff), who later coached Boris Becker. Rhyne's grandfather, Michael Depalmer Sr., was merely UT's head tennis coach from 1981-1994 and is well-known in tennis circles as the co-founder of the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy (along with the overly tanned namesake).
*Aside: To the extent the name Paul Annacone doesn't ring a bell, he is sort of a big deal. He is the former longtime coach of Pete Sampras, and is presently coaching Roger Federer.
Here ya go, listen to Rhyne tell it:
Rhyne has definitely lived up to expectations. A couple months ago he was the top ranked player in college tennis. His present ranking among NCAA players is #3, and it would shock no one if he won the NCAA singles title outright (a la his coach, Chris Woodruff, who won it all as a sophomore). Woodruff went pro after he won the NCAA's, and Williams is considering making the jump to the next level. I can't blame him if he decides to leave. He has already beaten, among other notables, the 25th ranked player in the world.
Tennys was also a highly ranked junior player* before making the two hour trek along I-40 East from his hometown of Gallatin Tennessee to Knoxville. He joined his brother Davey Sandgren, who was a senior on last year's team, playing #1 doubles with John-Patrick Smith.
*The linked article indicates that Sandgren was the nation's top tennis recruit, but I just told you a second ago that Williams was probably considered the top recruit. This confused me too, but could be reconcilable because Sandgren enrolled a semester after Williams. Either way, both guys are way way better than you (and me) at tennis.
Tennys tore it up last year at the #4 singles position and is tearing it up this year at the #3 singles position. And Tennys and Rhyne together are tearing it up at the #2 doubles position with a record of 18-4 and a 6 match winning streak.
Oh yes, it should be noted that the greatest tennis player of all time -- I'm referring, of course, to The Great Great Rafa Nadal (TGGRN) -- was impressed enough with Sandgren to request his services as hitting partner not just once but twice.
Like Rhyne, Tennys has aspirations to play professional tennis. Unlike Rhyne, he is not ready to make the leap just yet, and so we'll definitely be seeing more of Mr. Sandgren in the future. Here's hoping that the Sophomore from just a hop, skip, and a jump outside Music City U.S.A. helps the Vols make some serious noise in the coming weeks.