Mike Strange: Brandon Fickey did it for 'Knoxville, team and Tennessee'

Mike Strange
Matthew DeMaria/Tennessee Athletics
Tennessee’s Brandon Fickey celebrates after winning his match against Clemson on Saturday.

Photo by Matthew DeMaria/Tennessee Athlet, University of Tennessee Athletics

Matthew DeMaria/Tennessee Athletics Tennessee’s Brandon Fickey celebrates after winning his match against Clemson on Saturday.

Coach Sam Winterbotham after Tennessee's dramatic 4-3 win over Clemson in NCAA tennis.

In this era of diminished expectations, Tennessee fans long for a performance by somebody in orange they can stand up and cheer about.

Such performances still happen. The rub is that unless they happen in Neyland Stadium or Thompson-Boling Arena, not many people see them.

There was such a performance Saturday. It was witnessed by only a couple hundred pairs of eyes, nearly all of whom belong to the tennis community.

Football and basketball drive the revenue train that keeps UT’s other sports supplied with bats and diving boards and scholarships.

Football and basketball also drive the passion train. I don’t know that Brandon Fickey’s commitment was mentioned on any message boards a couple of years back, even though he was a blue-chip recruit from right here in Knoxville.

Wrong sport. Tennis.

As for Saturday, too bad Fickey wasn’t doing his thing in Neyland in front of 90,000. That would have been something.

Here’s the scene:

The No. 6 Vols were on the verge of being upset by Clemson in the second round of the NCAA tennis tournament.

After more than four hours, a pair of singles matches ended almost simultaneously, knotting the score at 3-3.

At the same time, Fickey lost a tiebreaker to Clemson’s Gerardo Meza, forcing a third set to decide the match.

Every eye in the Goodfriend Tennis Center turned to court three. The Clemson players and UT players ritually stood in line 60 feet away.

Here’s the backstory:

Saturday was only Fickey’s second day back after a layoff of more than a month to rest a shoulder injury. He played Friday in the NCAA opener and was trailing when the Vols clinched the 4-0 victory over South Carolina State.

Fickey, a sophomore that attended Webb School, had not won a singles match since way back on Feb. 17. Plagued by the shoulder, he went 0-7 in SEC play before coach Sam Winterbotham shut him down.

“It’s tough,’’ Fickey, a four-time state champion at Webb, said later, “you kind of forget how to win.’’

To the Vols’ relief, he remembered Saturday. But not before he heightened the tension by losing the first two games to Meza.

Fickey fought back, urged on by the crowd and his teammates. Both coaches would later call it a classic tennis match.

When Fickey broke Meza’s serve to clinch the victory at 6-4, the Vols sprinted to embrace him.

“I just love the guy,’’ said teammate Hunter Reese. “The guy’s had a tough year. He hasn’t won in a long time. To come out in this situation, it’s just an unbelievable effort.’’

Winterbotham admitted it was tough keeping his British stiff upper lip from

quivering as he watched Fickey fight for the team’s postseason life.

“He’s Tennessee tough,’’ Winterbotham said. “I can’t say any more. It described him the best.’’

Fickey has worked hard to be mentally tough as well. He realized what the moment meant. Growing up in Knoxville, he’d been coming to UT’s NCAA matches as long as he could remember.

“(Assistant) Coach (Chris) Woodruff told me to do it for Knoxville,’’ Fickey said. “And that’s what I did.

“I did it for Knoxville, I did it for the team and I did it for Tennessee.’’

It was something to see. You should have been there.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

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Comments » 15

BxVol writes:

Clutch,way to go Brandon!

NeedForSpeed writes:

Awesome! If I was in town, I'd have been there. It's a hell of a great place to watch quality tennis and this time of year all the matches are fun to watch. Go Vols!

kazoo writes:

Great win, great story, very happy to see our strong tennis program back in the "sweet 16." I think the proper grammar is "a sophomore WHO attended...."

chipmurphy461 writes:

Great job! Go VOLS

aspenvol2 writes:

Beautiful. GBO

tturley#297658 writes:

Way to go Brandon, no pressure, but we were counting on you to pull through! Hope you stay injury-free this week, and make a good run in the NCAA's!

RockyTop1_old writes:

Good Old Rocky Top....

buzz29 writes:

Congrats Brandon! All the best to you and the Vols tennis team!

RockyTopVolFan writes:

Congratulations to the Vol tennis team & especially to Brandon Fickey!!!
Go VOLS!

Southland writes:

surely the phrase Tennessee Tough will make it on tshirts and bumper stickers somehow I love the phrase

kangyru#223403 writes:

Great job by the Vols & Fickey. Tennessee Tennis is a great program with NCAA team finalist 3 times 1990,2001 & 2010. Back to back SEC Champs in 2010-11.Vols were 2nd in SEC,which had 11 teams ranked in top 24 this year(6 still in Sweet 16.) #15 Florida hosted a Regional and lost first round to unranked Denver 4-3 after leading 3-1.
UTsports.com is the leader in covering college tennis livestream webcast with commentary online. Unfortunately the NCAA didn't allow the Regional matches to be archived. You can see some more "Tennesse Tough" Tennis replay @ http://www.utsports.com/allaccess/
The Texas A&M match was a great one.

jkreis#632254 writes:

Like Kangyru said, UT does a great job in it's sports info department covering all sports. The livestream webcast of tennis with commentary is a perfect example. For all the grief the UTAD catches on this site here's something to be proud of! I watched the webcast from Virginia and it was a thriller. SID staffer Amanda Pruitt and guest commentator Marvin Thomas did a great job bringing the action to the webcast(although it wouldn't hurt to upgrade the audio equipment). Thanks for bringing it to those of us that couldn't be there, and keep up the good work! VFL, JK

tvol71 writes:

Great job. Need more like him. Go VOLS!

Teresa writes:

I've been sick & just read this article. That's ok about your stiff upper lip, Coach. Maybe I'm just sentimental but this article made me cry.

What to go Brandon. I'll be watching the rest of the tournament.

rbwtn writes:

We all want to holler and celebrate but you took us by surprise with Tennis we can't sing Rocky Top in the Stadium we've got to be quiet, which we're not use to but we are very Happy who knows maybe this kid can light a fire under
Tennis in the US again. We'll be pulling for him, that's for sure!

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