Tennessee sophomore Brandon Fickey has added some punch to his tennis game since last year.
His serve is a lot faster. His forehand is more powerful.
But it's another aspect of his game that the Knoxville native and former Webb School standout has worked equally hard to improve.
Fickey has focused on his mental game and vows to avoid a blowup on the court like last Feb. 5 when he lost his singles match against Illinois.
"That was a year ago," Fickey said Monday after the Vols' 4-0 victory over Eastern Kentucky at Goodfriend Tennis Center. "It happened in the past. I've made my apologies and I've moved on from that, and I've really worked on handling my stress and my anger on the court because I want to win so badly, and I think I'm 10 times a better player because of that."
His loss to Illinois was perhaps the low point of Fickey's freshman year. After the match, Fickey smashed his racquet and walked off the court — and was hit with a game penalty because he'd already been assessed a point penalty.
Since Fickey's match was completed, UT's No. 1 player, Mikelis Libietis, was assessed the game penalty.
Fickey said that outburst "isn't me at all."
"I don't know where that came from," he said. "I've really worked hard every day talking with people, and everything like that, the sport psychologist, just to make sure that doesn't come back and how to get better from that. I think that's made me a better player even overall, because half the game is mental."
UT coach Sam Winterbotham said Fickey learned from his mistakes that day.
"What matters is that you learn from it and it doesn't happen again, and it hasn't happened again," Winterbotham said. "He's grown. He's doing as well as anybody on our team. He's becoming a great leader on this team, and we're very, very proud of that.
"He's a fine young man. This is a guy of great character. He just had a day when he wanted to win so badly. He was nervous, he was a freshman, and he let the situation get the best of him, but he hasn't done it since."
Fickey rolled to three more singles victories Monday — losing only three games against Eastern Kentucky and Murray State (two matches) — as the Vols won three shutouts.
UT (7-0) plays at Illinois on Friday in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend. It's also a rematch of last year when Illinois beat the Vols 4-1 amid the Fickey incident.
This time, don't expect him to lose his cool, but look for the same intense Fickey.
"I just hate to lose," Fickey said. "I hate it. I think that's why I win a lot and I think that's why I'm going to continue to get better. That's something that always drives me in practice and wanting to get better every single day."
Dave Link is a freelance contributor.