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Rhyne Williams Q&A: First Time For Everything

Player Q&A

Williams© Matthew PaceRhyne Williams will make his first trip to Australia.

With hard work comes great success.

Rhyne Williams supports this old adage. Shortly after departing the collegiate tennis scene in July 2011, the Knoxville, Tenn. native tipped the scale at over 200 pounds. If he wanted to earn a living as a professional tennis player, Williams knew something had to give.

In reshaping his off-court habits over the course of the 2012 season, Williams jumped more than 300 spots to his current career-high ranking of World No. 190. His improved fitness made its mark this past Sunday, after he emerged victorious at the USTA Australian Open Wild card Play-offs in Norcross, Ga.

A former All-American at the University of Tennessee, the third-seeded Williams overcame No. 1 seed Tim Smyczek 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 to prevail in the final. Williams also defeated second seed Denis Kudla and Daniel Kosakowski in the eight-player event hosted by the Life Time Athletic & Tennis at Peachtree Corners.

In securing the Melbourne wild card, Williams will avoid the testing qualifying rounds. His countryman James Blake and Jack Sock are among the players who will battle it out for a place in the main draw. caught up with 21-year-old Williams, discussing his performance in Georgia, tennis background, 2012 rankings rise and more in this Q&A feature…

Congratulations on winning the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Play-offs. How was the experience of winning three matches in three days?
It was interesting because it was an indoor event and everyone has been training outside. So it was a little different to go back indoors. I felt pretty comfortable on it and I moved well. I’ve been working extremely hard in the off-season, especially on movement. I think it’s already started to pay off. 

It was pretty tough to play three matches in three days with no days off. I had a very physical second-round match with Denis Kudla. It was about three hours long and I had to come back the next day and play another tough opponent, Tim Smyczek, in a best-of-five set match. I haven’t done that very often, so it was new for me. It was a great tournament and I played really well.

You had lost to Smyczek twice before, so what reversed the outcome this time? Did you make adjustments to your game plan, was there a change in confidence or did you simply play your best tennis at the right time?
You’ve nailed it on the last one. I pretty much started playing incredibly well. I had lost to him the last two times, so I wasn’t expecting to go out there and play my best. I felt a little tired when I woke up, but I tried to play the best I could and stay positive. I didn’t change anything to be honest. My forehand and serve were working well for me. I just went after it and fought for every point.

Before winning the wild card, you already intended to make the trip to Australia. What are you looking forward to most about playing Down Under now that you've secured your first main draw berth in Melbourne?
Just the overall Grand Slam experience. It’s only my second main draw major appearance, so I’m just going to enjoy it the best I can and take away this new experience. I’ve never been to Australia, so that’s also very new for me. I’m looking forward to seeing a new culture and meeting new people. I have nothing to lose, so I can swing for the fences down there.

Your uncle, Mike de Palmer, played professionally and did quite well, peaking at No. 35 in singles and winning six doubles titles. Did he have any influence on your game and do you come from a tennis-playing family in general?
Yes, every single person in my family plays tennis. Both of my sisters; my mom and my dad; my grandfather coached at Tennessee; both uncles were coaches as well. 

Mike was obviously a great player. He coached me for a couple years when I was 13 and 14. But I get it from everyone in the family. My mom taught me. Every family member has played some part in coaching me… and still do, haha.

So will you have extra people in your corner next month to accompany you on your first trip to Australia?
No one is coming with me, except my cousin Christopher. He also played tennis. He’s my full-time travelling coach now.

You began 2012 ranked outside the Top 500 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings and at season's end, you moved up to No. 190. What contributed to your huge rise?
When I left school, I was over 200 pounds. I could not really move around the court, so I think just my overall commitment to my physicality, becoming fit and working really hard off the court is the biggest thing that’s helped me. Without a high fitness level these days, you’re not going to last. Everyone can play and you have to be an animal to even think about getting inside the Top 100. I’ve really worked hard on my off-court habits.

Was there a moment when you realised the hard work was paying off?
I think the US Open was definitely the highlight. It was a huge moment for me, seeing the work was paying off. I felt really fit up there. I still need to get a lot better. Hopefully I’m not speaking too soon. I know it’s going to be hot as heck down in Australia, where it’s a whole different ball game.

What are you looking to accomplish in 2013 as you look to establish yourself on the ATP World Tour?
I haven’t sat down with my coach yet to talk about our goals for the upcoming year. Obviously, I still want to keep getting better. I want to improve my game, my backhand and movement around the court. With hard work, I know the results will come.

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