The No. 5 Tennessee men’s tennis team took care of business at Barksdale on Friday, defeating the No. 52 Arkansas Razorbacks 6-1. Freshman Conor Gannon picked up his first top-100 and ranked win of his career.
After a brutal schedule to begin SEC play without No. 8 Johannus Monday, the Vols have rattled off three straight wins and snapped their three-game home losing streak. The toughest part of their schedule is behind them with no ranked opponents remaining.
Tennessee faced top-25 SEC opponents in its first six matches, three of them being top-10.
The Vols began the match by taking the doubles point. No. 72 Adam Walton and Pat Harper were the first finishers, defeating Nico Rousset and Alex Reco 6-3. The win marks Waltons 94th doubles win, and he sits just six wins away from becoming the sixth Vol to achieve 100 wins in both singles and doubles in his final collegiate season.
Walton has been the cornerstone of Tennessee’s program since head coach Chris Woodruff took over.
“Wow, he’s been with me since the start, that’s incredible,” Woodruff said. “He’s just been a model of consistency. Since I brought him here, he’s just gotten better and better each year.
“When he started he was a good four (court four) and he’s progressed up the ranks. He will certainly be missed, he quietly goes about his business, he has a great attitude, he doesn’t get too high or too low and he’s just a versatile guy in singles in doubles.”
The Vols clinched the doubles point behind No. 20 Emile Hudd and Shunsuke Mitsui’s triumph over Melvin Manuel and Adrien Burdet.
The Vols picked up right where they left off in singles. No. 21 Walton defeated No. 107 Reco 6-3, 6-2. Walton’s 111 singles win sits just one win away from tying Adam Carey for 7th on the Vols’ all-time singles list.
The next finisher for the Vols was Freshman Conor Gannon, who defeated No. 67 Aleksa Bucan. Gannon has been able to stay close in the matches he has played this season but has fallen short in the past. He recently has rattled off some quality wins in two of his past three matches against Georgia and now Arkansas with a record of 2-0 and one unfinished.
“First of all, it takes a lot of experience to get adjusted, particularly in the SEC, which is a really tough conference,” Woodruff said. “Secondly, it takes adjustment and getting used to our program. Our expectations are high and I think Conor slowly but surely over the course of the year he’s been doing better and better.
“I gave him the game ball today because especially as of late he’s been able to come on and win some valuable matches for us.”
Angel Diaz was able to clinch the match for the Vols on court 4, defeating Burdet 6-4, 6-2. The teams opted to play through the rest of the match.
Another freshman standout was Shunsuke Mitsui, who has been solid all season and continues to improve. His display of speed, recognition and composure has provided the Vols with much-needed consistency in the back of the lineup as well as being 2-0 on court three.
“He’s done an outstanding job,” Woodruff said. “Shun is very versatile, he’s very good in doubles, solid in singles. He has a great attitude, he works very hard and tries to do the right things. I think now, these things that we are trying to do down the stretch are really starting to pay off.”
As for other singles action, Hudd and Martim Prata both went to ten-point tiebreaks for the third set. Hudd was able to rally in the tiebreak and win 5-7, 6-3, 1-0 (10-5). Prata, however, fell just short, dropping the tiebreak 4-10.
The Vols will get a week-long break before heading to Lexington to face the Kentucky Wildcats at 5 p.m. EST. Tennessee will hopefully see its top-ranked player Monday back in action in the coming weeks.
“He will be back soon,” Woodruff said. “I don’t know whether that’s three days, five days, or a week but he is trending in the right direction.”