Former Vol tennis standout (and my homeboy) Rhyne Williams played his way into the main draw of his second consecutive major by winning the USTA's Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs. He made me look a touch prescient in the process.
Let me give you some context on this Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs of which I speak. Every major has a certain number of wildcards that they are free to grant as they see fit. The Australian Open and the U.S. Open have an agreement where they give us one of their wildcards and we return the favor. It is up to the USTA to do whatever it wants with that wildcard, but what it has chosen to do is to invite 8 players to play in a tournament, with the winner of the tournament getting the wildcard.
There were actually two former Vols in the 8-player field: Rhyne Williams and Tennys Sandgren. But only one could win. And Rhyne did just that. He started out by taking out former UCLA standout Daniel Kosakowski in a rather routine fashion, beating him 6-1, 6-4. His next match was against Denis Kudla, who was the second seed in the tournament and ranked 137 in the world (Williams is currently 190, but this will improve a good bit after the Australian Open). Williams dropped the first set to Kudla, but rallied in the next two to take the match 5-7, 7-6(4), 6-1.
In the finals Williams drew Tim Smyczek, who was the top seeded player in the tournament, ranked 128 in the world, had beaten Williams in their last two matches, and had just taken out former Vol Tennys Sandgren 6-2, 6-2. But Williams brought out his best stuff in the finals, smacking forehand after forehand with such pace and precision that people were referring to him in tweets as "Rhyne Del Potro" after the 5th ranked Juan Martin Del Potro (who hits a forehand so hard you'd swear it was being shot out of a cannon). After splitting two hard fought first sets, Rhyne and his filthy filthy forehand were too much for Smyczek, and Williams prevailed 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
Williams said that his performance in this tournament represents the best tennis he's ever played:
"Tim, he's been playing incredible to end the year. He beat me the last two times, and I woke up this morning and just myself I was going to try to give myself the best chance to win. Everything just kind of came together, and I played some of the best tennis I've ever played. But I'm looking forward to experience a new culture and see a new country. Many would give their right arm for this opportunity, so I feel really blessed to be in the main draw"
And with that, I give you youtube clips: