For two weeks in May, I couldn’t stop following tennis. I looked forward to coming home at the end of the day and watching more tennis. It wasn’t the French Open that captivated me … it was the NCAA Tennis Championships which I loved watching on the computer and on ESPNU. In case you missed it or want a Cliff Notes version of the championships, this is what I took of interest.
Nothing in tennis compares to the excitement of watching a good college tennis team match
Some people say you need a dog in the fight to have interest in a particular match. But, I only partially disagree. Being a former Stanford player, I was more into the Stanford-Florida Women’s Final than just about any other sporting event of the last 10 years. I was also very interested in the Virginia/Southern Cal Men’s Final as well. Most of the players know deep down this will be the climax of their tennis careers, and the excitement and intensity of that realization shows. YouTube “Florida Stanford Championship Match Point” for the last two points of the deciding match. The video isn’t too good, but the audio of the crowd and the post-match celebration give a great feel. YouTube “Virginia USC Tennis” and you get the feel of USC winning it. Just awesome!
The NCAA draw is too big
The Division I draw has 64 teams. The top 16 teams play the bottom 16 teams in the first round. In the men’s draw, 15 of the 16 matches were 4-0. The other was 4-1. And the women’s draw? The exact same thing! In a sport that loses most schools money, a 48-team draw is more than sufficient. I cannot remember a team outside the top-five winning the tournament anyway.
A coach’s worst nightmare came true
Players are often told that the ability to handle adversity is a sign of character. In the juniors, if you “lose it,” you are only representing yourself. In college, you are representing yourself, your college, your coaches, supporters and even scholarship providers. Virginia Coach Brian Boland, very well-respected as a hard-worker in tennis circles, watched his player Michael Shabaz walk off the court and quit in the NCAA individual semifinals after accidentally smacking a ball out of the stadium for a point penalty after his opponent returned an out serve on break point. People who were there said the officiating was not good which led to the lapse in judgment.
Former Easterner and JuniorTennisConsulting client Kristie Ahn can make a darn good YouTube video
YouTube “Stanford Tennis Promo Video.” Not a bad effort from a former number one nationally-ranked player who “only” had a full course load and NCAA Championship quest to balance. Unfortunately, she was injured for the final.
There can be more pressure playing at home than playing on the road
College tennis players are not used to playing in front of raucous crowds the way that professional athletes might be. Watching Mallory Burdette play in the decisive match of the championship reminded me of that fact. There is the fear of letting the home crowd down and losing your focus. It is also challenging and fun to have the “road warrior” mentality of you, your teammates and small section of supporters against the world. In 1996, I was fortunate to come back 5-2 and three match points down in the third set of a decisive semifinal NCAA match against Georgia on Georgia’s home turf. To this day, I think I would have probably lost the match if there weren’t 7,000 people there rooting against me and about 100 people there rooting for me.
Cheating, unfortunately, is alive and well in college tennis
The urban legend is that there are no service lets in Division I college tennis because people were calling “phantom” lets. This may have eliminated a problem, but after watching numerous matches the last couple of weeks, unfortunately, bad line calls were definitely a problem. I was surprised whenever a shot on the sideline away from the umpire was called in.
Improvement in college, is at best, questionable
People love taking me on about this fact. However, if you look at the draws of the NCAA individual championships, a lot of underclassmen defeated upperclassmen who had similar junior rankings.
Ricky Becker is the Director of Tennis at Pine Hollow Country Club. He independently coaches high-performance juniors and adults of all-levels year-round at Bethpage Park Tennis Center. He has coached hundreds of ranked junior players. As a player, Becker was awarded Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis Team and 1989-1992 Roslyn High School Tennis Teams, and was ranked number four in the United States in the 18 & Under Division.