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.
Bobby - your comments on Oklahoma are dead-on. Obviously I am a fan of the team (so my comments likely come with a slight bias), but I am very impressed with the form of Andrew Harris so far this year. He looks healthy and many seem to forget he is a former top 5 player. As you know, he was up a set and a break at 5-3 in the 2nd against Chrysochos of Wake before losing the second and deciding the match based upon a tiebreaker (which is not a real way to decide a match IMO). At the bottom, Bertsch at 6 is much stronger than I expected with a whippy heavy forechand, and Oetzbach looks like he will be a tough out at 5 (a grinder with a big forehand as well). I know the Sooners got blitzed by Wake, but the match was much closer than the score showed when you look at the matches up close. Not saying OU is at Wake's level, but they are not far off either. I think OU is susceptible at 3 (Ghilea is solid as a rock but not as dangerous as many others have at 3) and at 5 (Oetzbach needs to close better) and Papa at 2 needs to play like a top 20 guy (he gets a bit errratic at times), but if OU comes through in these areas, they have a high ceiling. Where do you project this team by conference season? Can they be a top 5 team in your opinion?
Seems like OU's fate against top teams will rest heavily on the doubles point...which they have been good at so far. Winning four singles matches against top teams is very difficult to do, especially if you are susceptible at two or three positions in the lineup. A lot of it also depends on the draw and certain matchups etc. Can they knock off a top 5 team...yes. Can they do it three days in a row...not sure.
Long time Sooner fan and so impressed with what the new coaches have done with this team in a short amount of time. It looked beyond grim in the fall when 4 players appeared on the roster, with the departure of Biro and Mora, and Harris' status in question. Remember Bobby, this is a team many picked to be very mediocre this year. But, there seems to be a renewed energy with the team this year. Hats off to them for a great KOW. Tennis in the state of Oklahoma is alive and well.