Williams, Sandgren a step closer to Australia

NORCROSS, Ga. — Two former University of Tennessee All-Americans are among four tennis hopefuls in the hunt for an Australian Open wild-card berth.

Playing on adjoining courts Friday, Rhyne Williams and Tennys Sandgren finished within minutes of each other in their straight-set quarterfinal wins at Life Sport Tennis.

Williams defeated former UCLA All-American Daniel Kosakowski 6-1, 6-4, while Sandgren beat Stanford star Bradley Klahn 6-3, 6-3.

In today's semifinals, Williams takes on second-seeded Denis Kudla and Sandgren goes against top-seeded Tim Smyczek, the finalist at this year's Knoxville Challenger.

The winner of the three-day event earns the USTA's wild card into the main draw of the Australian Open next month and is guaranteed at least $27,000 in prize money.

Williams, the 2011 NCAA singles semifinalist from Knoxville, has played this event the last two seasons, but this week brings a different perspective.

As opposed to past years stocked with veterans, the field is full of up-and-coming players. Smycek is the "old man" at 25.

Williams is seeded third and has the opportunity to play in the main draw of his second career Grand Slam event.

"The previous years, I had no expectations," said Williams, who is No. 190 in the world rankings. "I was the underdog and I could swing away and really had no pressure.

"Not that I feel pressure this year. It's just that I'm one of the top three seeds. I'm happy to get the first win, and hopefully I can keep it going."

Williams experienced little trouble Friday. He said he was nervous to start, but once he held serve in the first game, he quickly took control against Kosakowski and jumped out to a 5-0 lead.

"Things always tighten up in the second set," Williams said. "Whether you like it or not, it's going to happen with these guys. Everyone's good. You've got to have close games and close sets."

Sandgren, making his debut at the event, fought through a 15-minute service game against Klahn at 2-3 in the first set. Once he held serve, he immediately broke the former Stanford star and raced out to take the first set 6-3.

"That made me relax," Sandgren said. "That would have been tough to lose a tight game on your serve like that. It would have been easy to go downhill fast."

There are no strangers across the net at this point for either Sandgren or Williams.

"It helps to have familiar people in your same shoes, but it's not fun to play each other though," Sandgren said. "It's kind of hard. Everyone here is friends, and that makes it difficult. You'd rather play somebody you didn't like.

"There's a good opportunity for all of us here two get a wild card, so we'll definitely put it aside and get after it."

Smith Falls: J.P. Smith, a former UT teammate of Sandgren and Williams, lost in his bid for a wild card in the Australian Open. Smith, a native of Australia, was beaten in four sets by Matt Reid in the Australian Open Playoff in Melbourne.

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