Rhyne Williams has arrived at the ultimate destination in men’s college tennis. He just wishes there had been another route to get there.
“It really stinks that one of has to lose,’’ Williams said Sunday after beating University of Tennessee teammate Tennys Sandgren 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 in the semifinals of the NCAA singles tournament at Stanford University.
Williams and Sandgren, teammates, roommates and close friends, went about a normal Sunday — except for the two hours on the court.
And one of them did have to lose. Which made it awful for coaches Sam Winterbotham and Chris Woodruff.
“What I thought would be an enjoyable day was really tough,’’ said Winterbotham.
“It was heartbreaking. You know how hard they’re fighting.’’
Today, Sandgren will be back in the stands, cheering on No. 3-ranked Williams against Southern California’s No. 1-ranked Steve Johnson at 3 p.m. (EDT).
Johnson advanced in the other semifinal when Virginia’s Michael Shabaz retired trailing, 7-6, 4-2.
“I’m definitely happy with the way I performed,’’ said Sandgren. “I kept building match after match and today I played the best I’ve played here.
“He forced me to, if I wanted to keep the match going.’’
Either way UT was going to have a representative on the final day of college tennis for the fourth year in a row.
John-Patrick Smith played in the singles finals in 2008. The past two years Smith and Davey Sandgren, Tennys’ older brother, played in the doubles finals. All lost.
Williams will be trying to become UT’s second singles champion. Woodruff, now an associate head coach, won in 1993.
He and Williams are both from Knoxville. Woodruff was coached by Williams’ grandfather, Mike DePalmer Sr.
The finals will be a rematch of the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championship last November, won by Williams, 1-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Today’s winner also gets a wild-card entry in the 2011 U.S. Open.
The timeline up to Sunday’s match didn’t vary from any other.
The two sophomores had dinner Saturday night after their quarterfinal wins.
Then they lounged around the hotel room, kidding about pulling pranks on each other.
Sunday morning they shared breakfast at Hobee’s Restaurant. Then they reported to the stadium and warmed up against each other.
“There was no tension at all,’’ Williams said. “We have nothing to hide.
“We know everything about each other’s game.’’
They wore each other’s shirts to the match. Then it was time for business.
“We definitely weren’t thinking about hurting each other’s feelings,’’ Sandgren said.
Winterbotham and Woodruff sat in the stands. Previously, Winterbotham had been on the bench with Sandgren and Woodruff with Williams.
“It would have been a conflict of interest,’’ Winterboth am said. “If I’m strategizing for one guy, I’m going against one of my teammates.
“We couldn’t do that.’’
Williams and Sandgren admitted to exhaustion after a grueling opening set.
Williams prevailed, but Sandgren rallied to win the second set, 6-3.
“To be honest,’’ Williams said, “the first set was so tough physically, I needed to regroup and get ready for the third set.’’
He did, and how. He broke Sandgren’s serve once, then twice, then finally for the match.
“He definitely got some energy back,’’ said Sandgren. “My legs were a little tired and he took it to me.’’
In the stands, the coaches were agonizing.
“I think every point you felt more for the person that lost the point than for the person that won the point,’’ said Winterbotham.
“But we could not be prouder for both of these guys.’’.