Most tennis players come into college just hoping to play in a few matches in their first season, and the thought of being in the No. 1 spot is just a future goal. Tennessee’s Mikelis Libietis took the top spot from day one, and has held it up phenomenally as a freshman.
   
 The 6-foot-2, 199-pound Latvian is the first freshman to take the No. 1 singles spot on the UT tennis team since John-Patrick Smith in 2008 and is only the seventh ever. In the fall, he was able to win 2011 Tennessee Fall Invitational in singles and also grabbed the doubles title alongside teammate Jarryd Chaplin. He also took the Ohio Valley Regional Championships in doubles with teammate Hunter Reese.
   
 Libietis has held his own, acquiring a 16-7 singles record with a ranking of No. 36 and a 21-4 doubles record with a ranking of No. 17. He has singles wins over four players ranked No. 51 or better, and of his seven losses, six have been in the top 75 and two of those were ranked in the top 10.
    
A tennis future and a career at UT were obvious choices for the freshman.
    
“My father was a coach, and my brother started playing when he was young, so I was very young when I started playing,” Libietis said. “I chose Tennessee because it’s a good tennis program and has had an amazing team for the last five years. It was an easy decision.”
    
He might be a new face around tennis in Knoxville, but on the other side of the world, he has made a name for himself. Libietis represented Latvia in 2011 at a Davis Cup match against Greece. As a player in the junior and Futures circuits, he won a title and made it to the final in three other events as well as achieved an ATP doubles ranking of No. 624 and a singles ranking of No. 1,357. He is only the ninth UT player ever to compete in an international team event.
    
When asked about the differences between his home in Latvia and his new home at Tennessee, he had only good things to say.
   
 “People are more friendly here than back home,” Libietis said. “In Latvia, we don’t have college sports. You could say that I am beginning to (bleed orange).”
    
While he has been a dominant force on the courts, the freshman looking to study sports management is seeing the tough aspects of being a college athlete.
   
 “It’s pretty tough to manage time,” Libietis said. “Stats and economics are tough for me because of the language barrier. We have four-hour practices, so you’re kind of tired when you study, but when you know what you need to do in your day, you just have to get over it.”
    
Libietis has also been introduced to the world of trash-talking. He explained that he has seen that in the NCAA and SEC teams actually hate each other and fans yell and have gotten under his skin easily. As the Vols have recently begun to struggle in conference play, Libietis also knows that it is important for fans to come out and support when the team continues SEC play against LSU on March 23, at 1 p.m.
    
“The crowds can get to you and it’s easy to lose your focus,” Libietis said. “If they are UT fans, they better come and watch.”