BINGHAMTON — Rhyne Williams has his sights set on the Levene, Gouldin & Thompson Tennis Challenger, but eventually he hopes to be considered one of the best tennis players in the world.
“Ultimately, I would really like to be inside the top 40 in the world,” said Williams, who earned his first singles title at the Challenger of Dallas in Feburary. “I think that’s doable. I still have a lot of time. If you look at the rankings now, the average age of the guys inside the top 100 is 29 years old. I’m 22, so I’ve got plenty of time.”
Ranked 129th, Williams has a long way to go to reach his goal. For now, Williams is the top seed in the LG&T Challenger, and on Thursday, he advanced to the quarterfinals with a 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2 victory over Michael Venus at Recreation Park.
Venus challenged Williams constantly, and looked in control of the match through two sets. Although Williams won the opening set, he was unable to break Venus’ serve and looked unbalanced.
“It was difficult, he’s a very good competitor,” Williams said. “After I won the first set, I figured he would have a bit of a let-up, and he definitely didn’t. I looked over and he was bouncing around, still fired up.”
In the sixth game of the third set, Williams was finally able to break Venus’ serve and take a 4-2 lead. Williams was clearly fired up after he won the game, as he pumped his fist and shouted in celebration.
“He fought hard and served really well,” Williams said. “I just tried to neutralize that however I could.”
Williams was so frustrated by Venus’ serve that he actually broke his racket in the first set and received a racket abuse warning.
“I had a lapse mentally there for a second, but it didn’t really affect me,” Williams said. “I snapped back and ended up winning that tiebreaker.”
After Williams took his 4-2 advantage in the final set, he won the next two games to move on.
If Williams is able to win Friday’s quarterfinal match against Takanyi Garanganga, he could possibly play his college roommate, Tennys Sandgren, in the semis, should he also win.
“We are best buddies,” Williams said. “We’ve played each other tons of times. We don’t like to talk about it.”
One of the times they faced off was in the 2011 NCAA men’s singles semifinals. Williams won, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, before falling in the championship game.
“It’s just not fun when you’re playing a buddy,” Williams said.
The NCAA tournament was Williams’ first taste of high-level competition. He has since played in the 2012 U.S. Open and in this year’s Australian Open and French Open. Williams said the intense matches he had in those Grand Slams have helped him take steps toward his ultimate goal.
“It’s just nice to have that experience under my belt,” Williams said “Not many people can say they’ve played in Grand Slams.”
While Williams would love to be playing in and succeeding in those big tournaments every year, he is content with taking small steps.
“I’m still a young guy, but I still have a lot of growing up to do,” Williams said. “I’m going to try to learn every day.”