Rocky Top will always be home sweet home to Brandon Fickey, a sophomore from Knoxville.
Currently ranked at No. 87, Fickey is currently 12-1 in dual matches to start 2013, with his latest victory coming against Texas A&M in a 6-3, 6-2 victory against No. 67 Shane Vinsant.
In this week's Serve and Volley, the "Grill Master" talks about his personal improvements, Knoxville's best kept secrets and the Volunteers' recent signee Sean Karl, who is midway through cancer treatments.
Q: You're nationally ranked for the first time at No. 87. What was your reaction when you first heard the news?
A: I was very pleased with myself. I've put in the work and I was finally, you know, got on the national ranking and that's been a big goal of mine. I was very pleased with myself and I was happy.
Q: You came from behind in the match against Wake Forest to help the team end up winning 4-3. What are your thoughts/strategies in tight matches like that?
I think what's been a big part of my game this year is to really work on the mental aspect of the game. I can credit that a lot to Dr. Joe Whitney, sports psychologist here. I'll be honest, I was really nervous. I just kept playing it point by point and Coach Winterbotham played a big part of helping me through that.
Q: Outside of tennis, what would you consider some of your special talents or hobbies?
A: I love to play the drums. It's been a big part of my life for several years. Just music in general, I love playing music.
Q: What about the "Grill Master"?
A: Haha, yes. The guys like to call me that just because if we ever have a cookout or do anything, I'm the one they put in charge of cooking everything, the chicken, the hamburgers. I like to grill out when it gets warm, a lot of chicken and stuff like that, so they just kind of put that term on me.
Q: You've found consistency playing at No. 4. Have you enjoyed playing at the position? What do you think makes you the best for it?
A: I don't really think too much on numbers, so to speak. That's up to the coaches where they put you, because every position matters, counts as a point, so I'm going to try my hardest wherever they put me, whether they put me at one or six. I think just as far as being a guy that's going to win a lot and be consistent for the team, that's a great spot for me.
Q: Being from Tennessee, you are pretty good friends with Sean Karl. Talk a little about him: his character, playing style, etc.
A: Sean and I grew up a lot together. We played doubles together in the juniors and ton. He's fighting hard right now to come through his Ewing's sarcoma. He's doing well. He just actually got cleared to play sports again. He's a big hitter. He loves to crush the ball. He's got a fiery personality kind of like me. He hates to lose, he's going to get mad every once in awhile, but that's what we look for, is guys that hate to lose.
Q: If you could pick one teammate to pick on, who would it be and why?
A: I think I'm going to go with Taylor Patrick, just because I've known him the longest and I find easiest to get under his skin a little bit, as he would probably say to you. He can push my buttons a little bit as well. He's just someone I can pick on and them not take it too personally would be Taylor.
Q: What is one thing about John Collins that everyone should know?
A: The guy loves the game of tennis. You have guys who are very talented but to understand John, he loves the game of tennis and he studies it a lot. He spends a lot of time watching video and things like that. He likes to please people is one other thing. He hates anyone being mad at him. I guess you could say he's very musically talented with the piano.
Q: What do you think your biggest improvement from last year has been?
A: The mental aspect of the game, I would say. Last year, I had a lot of ups and downs just fighting myself on the court for the most part. Now, I'm letting my tennis do more of the talking.
Q: Going into the rest of the season, what do you want to improve on the most?
A: Developing a bigger forehand to have a bigger game.
Q: Who do you believe has improved their play the most so far this season and how?
A: I'm going to say Mikelis. He's probably one of the most talented guys I've ever seen play. His record shows that. Hes learning how to play a little bit more consistently.
Q: Being from Knoxville, what is your favorite thing/place that maybe not many people know about?
A: There's a restaurant called Litton's that I like to go to. It's very down to earth, hamburgers and stuff like that. That's one place that I like to take people who haven't been here before.
Q: Going into SEC play, besides the obvious answer of "winning" what are your expectations?
A: We want to be the team at the top. We want to be a force to reckon with going into May and the NCAA championships. Like I said, our goal is to win it and we don't want to settle for anything less.