Select Page
Tagged with: , , , , , ,

This past weekend was the first chance for several teams to knock the dust off their racquets and it was also our first chance to see some of the freshmen and January roster additions in action. I’ll go back through the weekend that was and give my thoughts on several teams and where I see them headed this season plus I’ll highlight those with stellar KOW performances. I’ll also take a look at the freshmen and January roster additions that could be difference makers for their respective teams. 

So who impressed me the most – I’ll start with Oklahoma, led by first-year head coach Nick Crowell, played some dominating doubles against No. 19 Michigan and No. 17 Illinois. The Sooners won all four completed matches and led 5-3 in the two that went unfinished. As good as the the John Roddick coached OU teams were the one thing they weren’t very consistent at was winning the doubles point (.52%). In singles play we knew that Andrew Harris would perform well but only dropping four games against a quality player like Aleks Vukic was more just good – it was great! Crowell only had four players on the roster during the fall so he had to restock the bottom of the lineup and his four newcomers led by Jochen Bertsch and Adrian Oetzbach have definitely held their own. Bertsch clinched the 4-0 win over Illinois with a 1 & 1 win at No. 6 plus he had a break lead deep in the third against Michigan. OU didn’t drop a set at all against Illinois and even though it was pushed pretty hard by Michigan all but one of the guys was in winning position. OU’s strength is going to be its experienced top four but if it can keep winning the doubles point at a 70-80% clip and at least get a split at 5 and 6 they are going to be a tough out for most teams.  

{rsmembership id=”1,2″}

Oklahoma State, led by fifth-year head coach Jay Udwadia, beat a really good indoor team in #22 Columbia and then routed #14 Kentucky in the region finals. Oklahoma State added Artur Dubinski (ATP 736/13.74 UTR) to the roster last week although he didn’t playing during the Kick-Off Weekend after just arriving in Stillwater within the last two weeks. Dubinski is expected to play in the top three which would let Arjun Kadhe and Lucas Gerch potentially play at No. 4 and No. 5 after playing well at No. 2 and No. 3 last year. Last season Oklahoma State spent a few weeks in the top 5 but then things started to slip a little after the mid-season departure of Temur Ismailov; this year it looks like they could be headed back towards the top five and if everything stays as-is they could be there to stay!

Baylor took its lumps last year by going from a top two team to a team that was fortunate to qualify for the NCAA Tournament after the loss of three singles starters. Baylor head coach Matt Knoll, who has been at the helm for 21 years, was able to reload his roster this year with some higher-end talent and those newcomers have already paid dividends as evidenced by last weekends results against Texas A&M and SMU. Freshman Constantin Frantzen clinched the 4-3 win over Texas A&M and then sophomore newcomer Juan Benitez clinched the 4-0 shutout over SMU. The Big 12 is the toughest conference in the country (top to bottom) but Baylor has just as good a chance to win it as the two teams that I just mentioned.

There were several other teams that had dominating weekends but the competition wasn’t nearly as good as what Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Baylor faced. 

Now I want to look at some teams that didn’t win a regional but played really well that you’ll want to keep an eye on this season:

  • Old Dominion – the Monarchs entered the weekend with notable wins over NC State and Harvard and then they added a 4-0 win over perennial NCAA qualifier Denver. Despite losing to Ohio State 4-0 they took three first sets with two of those coming against Mikael Torpegaard and JJ Wolf at No. 1 and No 2. First-year head coach Dominik Mueller has the team playing at a high level and as I look through their schedule I see a lot of winnable matches with very few (if any) that I’d predict them to lose. Key matches on the schedule: 2/10 at South Carolina, 2/12 at Clemson, 3/4 vs. St. John’s, 3/17 vs. VCU, and 3/24 vs. MTSU – they do not play CUSA member Rice in the regular season.. I think they’ll probably be 19-2 or 20-1 heading into the Conference USA Tournament so unless they lose a few unexpectedly they should be in good position to secure an NCAA bid regardless of how they do in the CUSA Tournament. 

  • Iowa – the Hawkeyes upset the regional hosts, Texas Tech, after a huge comeback from Josh Silverstein at No. 1 and then they gave #20 Mississippi State a tough match that could have come down to the wire had that not lost a pair of tiebreak in doubles. The Big Ten is a top heavy conference with with spots 5 through 12 wide open so if Iowa can keep playing like they played last weekend there’s no reason why they can’t finish closer to fifth and be a top 40 team. The non-conference schedule over the next month is challenging with Omaha, Drake, Dartmouth, and Utah coming to Iowa City while the Hawkeyes go to Oregon and Denver. Iowa lost a lot of those type of matches last year, with many of them finishing 4-3 or 4-2, so this next month will tell us if they are ready to take the next step and become a legitimate NCAA Tournament team. Second-year head coach Ross Wilson just signed the 17th rated recruiting class by Tennis Recruiting Network so things are definitely looking better than they have in the past! 

  • Georgia State – the Panthers added a second win over a Power 5 conference team when they defeated Auburn 4-2 in the Wake Forest Regional. Even though they got blanked by Wake Forest in the region finals it wasn’t a total whitewash because Andrei Andrukhou up 5-2 in the second set on Wake’s freshman phenom Borna Gojo, Jack MacFarlane was up a set on Alan Gadjiev at No. 6, and Sebastian Acuna was even in the second set after dropping a 7-5 first set against Dennis Uspensky. Brett Ross, who is a former Wake Forest player and assistant coach, has his team headed in the right direction with the ultimate goal of getting GSU back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 not that farfetched. Georgia State has a very competitive non-conference schedule coming up over the next 30 days with a chance to add some more resume enhancing wins – 2/3 at Georgia Tech, 2/4 vs. North Florida, 2/5 vs. South Carolina, 2/12 at South Alabama, 2/19 at East Tennessee State, 2/23 at Louisville. The easiest path to the NCAAs will be to win the Sun Belt Tournament but if they go 6-0 or 5-1 against those six then an at-large could be play – stay tuned!!

  • Vanderbilt – the Commodores had a very convincing 4-1 win over Penn State (headed towards 6-1) and then they gave #7 North Carolina a match before falling 4-1. In the UNC match, Baker Newman defeated the No. 8 rated ITA National Freshmen/Newcomer Simon Soendergaard in straight sets plus newcomer Lachlan McPhee (GGC transfer) had split sets versus Robert Kelly and freshman Panu Virtanen was up 2-0 in the third at No. 6. Vanderbilt’s only other loss was a 4-3 defeat against a top 10 Northwestern team in a match that came down to a third set on the deciding court. Vanderbilt head coach Ian Duvenhage (12th year) and associate head coach Jamie Hunt (7th year) have recruited well over the last three years, with each class rated 16th or better by the Tennis Recruiting Network, and the addition of McPhee from NAIA powerhouse Georgia Gwinnett could be the missing piece to the puzzle. I’m not expecting a Vandy win this Friday when No. 1 Virginia comes to town but I am expecting them to beat Texas Tech on Sunday and give North Carolina another tough match when the Heels come to Nashville on 2/27. Vanderbilt is going to play second fiddle to Georgia and Florida in the SEC but right now I think Vanderbilt has the potential to be near the top of the next wave. 


Stellar KOW Individual Performances

  • Ricardo Jorge (Ole Miss) – the senior has struggled to find his place in the lineup over the last three years but he picked up two solid wins over the weekend at No. 3 against SMU’s Samm Butler and Texas A&M’s Aleksandre Bakshi. 

  • Gustav Hansson (Ole Miss) – the junior beat Texas A&M’s Arthur Rinderknech 6-1 in the third and also beat SMU’s Ronald Slobodchikov who was coming off a win over ITA No. 3 Mike Redlicki.

  • Constantin Frantzen (Baylor) – the freshman clinched Baylor’s win over Texas A&M winning the decider 6-3 in the third against Valentin Vacherot and then he won in straight sets against SMU’s Arkadijs Slobodkins. 

  • Andrew Harris (Oklahoma) – the senior beat Michigan’s #50 Kevin Wong 6-4, 6-1 and then rocked Illinois’s Aleks Vukic 6-3, 6-1. 

  • Petros Chrysochos (Wake Forest) – the sophomore only dropped six games in his two wins over Nebraska’s Toby Boyer and Georgia State’s Zack Kennedy.

  • Ronnie Schneider (North Carolina) – the senior went 2-0 and won both of his matches in straight sets against Vandy’s Cameron Klinger and Notre Dame’s #27 Josh Hagar. 

  • Wayne Montgomery (Georgia) – the junior from South Africa went 2-0 at No. 1 with straight set wins over Purdue’s #49 Gergely Madarasz and Washington’s #60 Mitch Stewart. 

  • Constantin Schmitz (Tulane) – the junior from Germany went went 2-0 at No. 1 with three set wins over Cal’s #12 Florian Lakat and Pepperdine’s Guilherme Hadlich. 

  • Nick Crystal (USC) – the senior only dropped nine games in his wins over East Tennessee State and San Diego while playing at No. 3.

  • Lefteris Theodorou (Iowa) – the junior who goes by “Lefty” though he’s right-handed went 2-0 over the weekend with a straight set win over Mississippi State’s Mate Cutura and a three set win over Texas Tech’s Alex Sendegeya. Both of those players spent most of last year ranked in the top 125 and Cutura finished ranked No. 43. 

  • Nuno Borges (Mississippi State) – the sophomore from Portugal went 2-0 at the No. 1 spot with a three set win over #71 Aziz Dougaz (Florida State) and a straight set win over Iowa’s Josh Silverstein. 

  • Harrison Scott (Texas) – the sophomore from Canada went 2-0 at No. 3 while only dropping nine games against Oregon’s Jayson Amos and Drake’s Ben Stride. 

  • Hugo Di Feo (Ohio State) – the junior from Canada went 2-0 at No. 3 while only dropping eight games against Utah and Old Dominion. 

  • Sam Shropshire (Northwestern) – the senior from Philly went 2-0 at No. 3 while only dropping eight games against Georgia Tech and Memphis. 

  • Stephan Koenigsfest (Purdue) – the January admit from Bolivia went 2-0 at No. 4 with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Georgia’s Paul Oosterbaan and a 6-1, 6-2 win over Alabama’s Alexey Nesterov. 

  • Jonas Maier (Utah State) – the sophomore from Germany went 2-0 at No. 6 and only dropped two games in wins over TCU and Wichita State. 


Freshmen/January Newcomers (Potential Impact Players)

  • Carl Soderlund (Virginia) – the freshman from Sweden is expected to make his collegiate debut this weekend in matches against Vanderbilt, Louisville, and Kentucky. Soderlund was rated No. 1 in the ITA’s National Freshmen/Newcomer poll and for good reason since he currently has an ATP ranking of 412 plus he last year he won a main draw match at the ATP 250 in Bastad, Sweden. Soderlund is expected to play anywhere from one through three in the lineup. 

  • William Blumberg (North Carolina) – the #1 player in the TRN Class of ’17 enrolled early and has already picked up a ranked win (#97 Daniel Valent) while playing at No. 2. Blumberg and Ronnie Schneider will probably both see time at No. 1 and with a challenging non-conference schedule plus the NTIs he’ll have a chance to earn a singles ranking sooner rather than later. UNC had to replace two of its top three so getting a guy like Blumberg in the top two keeps the other spots intact. 

  • Brandon Holt (USC) – the son of Tracy Austin (former WTA No. 1 and two-time grand slam champion) had a tremendous fall going 17-3 while while beating nine ranked players and he’s off to a 3-0 start in the dual-match season which included a 6-2, 6-3 win over San Diego at the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Last year USC came on strong as the season progressed but it struggled to consistently win up top. I’d expect Holt to spend a fair amount of time at No. 1 and I see him racking up a lot more Ws than Ls. Brandon will play a large role in determining whether this team is a legit national title contender. 

  • Borna Gojo (Wake Forest) – the January admit from Croatia, who has an ATP ranking of 724, is off to a 4-0 start which includes a 6-3, 6-4 win over Oklahoma’s Alex Ghilea. Gojo has started at No. 3 in all but one of his matches and with Wake replacing its No. 3 and No. 4 from last year at this point I’d consider him an upgrade.

  • Christian Sigsgaard/Yuya Ito (Texas) – Sigsgaard began his collegiate career winning his first 14 matches (7 ranked opponents) before falling in the semis at the All-Americans. Ito picked up three ranked wins in the fall and made the AA Round of 16 and so far he’s 5-1 in dual-match play while playing at No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4. Sigsgaard has started all seven matches at No. 1 going 4-1 with two going unfinished. Both will have a chance to make their marks on the record books in Austin and possibly bring Texas its first national title. 

  • JJ Wolf (Ohio State) – the January admit from Cincinnati has already played in four dual-matches, mostly at No. 2, with only one reaching a conclusion due to a quick Ohio State clinch. In the three matches that did not finish he was ahead in one, tied in another, and down a set in the last one against Old Dominion. It’ll be interesting to see if he stays at No. 2 or swaps spots with Hugo Di Feo at No. 3.

  • Dominik Stary (Northwestern) – the freshman from the Czech Republic went 7-1 during the fall and won the Big Ten Singles Championships and so far this winter he’s 4-0 in dual match play at No. 4 with notable wins over Georgia Tech’s Carlos Divar (1&1), Louisville’s Sean Donohue (0&2), and Vanderbilt’s Panu Virtanen (1&3). Stary also had two matches go unfinished – he was on-serve in the third set against TCU’s #55 Guillermo Nunez and led Memphis Chris Patzanovsky 5-2 in the third. Stary looks to be the heir apparent to the No. 1 spot in the lineup next year following the graduations of Strong Kirchheimer, Konrad Zieba, and Sam Shropshire. I don’t expect Stary to lose many if any matches this year at No. 4 so watch out for this Northwestern team!

  • Stephan Koenigsfest (Purdue) – the January admit from Bolivia won his first two collegiate matches in straight sets over Georgia’s Paul Oosterbaan and Alabama’s Alexey Nesterov. I think Purdue has its best team in quite some time and I expect Koenigsfest to be a significant contributor in the middle of the line-up.

  • Nathan Ponwith (Georgia) – the freshman from Scottsdale, who was TRN’s No. 1 rated player in the class of 2016, had an okay fall but he’s off to a really quick start in dual-match. Ponwith won his dual-match debut 0 & 1 over Georgia Tech’s No. 4 and during the Kick-Off Weekend playing at No. 3 he defeated Purdue’s #70 Benjamin Ugarte in straight sets and led Washington’s Gal Halak 5-3 in the third when play was halted due to the clinch. Georgia is hosting the NCAA Tournament this May and if they want to make a deep run a Ponwith will need to hold his own against the heavy hitters. 

  • Evan Zhu (UCLA) – the January admit from Irvine had a nice fall on the pro circuit after making a singles final in Claremont and a double final in Harlingen. Zhu made his collegiate debut at the Sherwood Cup (semifinals) but he’s been up and down so far in the young dual-match season. UCLA lost two of its top four (McDonald/Sell) with both near locks so if Zhu can get his bearings straight he’ll have a chance to make a big difference in the middle of the lineup. 



{else} To view the rest of my thoughts (and I have a lot of them) you must be a CTT subscriber. Please visit our MEMBERS area to LOGIN or SUBSCRIBE (only $.33 a day) to view all premium content.{/rsmembership}