2002 Men's Tennis Outlook

Jan. 10, 2002

They say that nothing in life is a sure thing-except change. To that end, Cal Men's Tennis brings a completely new look into the 2002 campaign.

Returning is only half of last year's players to a team with no remaining seniors. While those facts may look daunting to even the most casual spectator, 2001 Pac-10 Coach of the Year Peter Wright thinks otherwise.

'We expect to have an outstanding year,' says Wright. 'It's not difficult to see us having one of our best.'

Wright has good reason to be excited. Even though he has seven new players this season, the upper echelon remains virtually unchanged from last year. Robert Kowalczyk and 11th-ranked All-American John Paul Fruttero return to the team after spending what Wright terms 'an educational fall off' playing in professional events. Both are 'excited and motivated' to begin the 2002 season.

Also back is the 2001 Pac-10 and ITA Region VIII Rookie of the Year, Balazs Veress, out of Hungary. Veress, who opened the fall season ranked 36th in the country by the ITA, has refined his game over the past months at the ITA All-American Championships and the Omni Hotels Northwest Regional Challenge.

While there are many new faces to this years squad, not all of them are new to intercollegiate tennis. Chase Exon, a senior transfer from Pepperdine, joins the Bears this season, and will look to challenge for serious playing time in both the singles and doubles courts.

'Chase brings experience to our squad, and will enjoy the role we have for him to play,' said Wright.

With all the newcomers, one might question the leadership and maturity of this young Bears' team. However, the top of the starting rotation remains unchanged from last season, and Wright says that there is no lack of leadership on this team.

'Having John Paul (Fruttero) and Balazs (Veress) brings a lot of leadership at the top,' explains Wright. 'They have proven themselves to be leaders.'

Fruttero will once again hold down the top court, which he has done for two seasons, recording a 16-9 record playing exclusively on the No. 1 court last year.

'He is a big time tennis player,' Wright said. 'He's focused on taking the team to the NCAA championship. His approach to his practices and his matches is professional. He's a very talented young man with great energy and a lot of maturity. He's a big part of the driving force behind this team.'

After splitting time last season with departed senior Adrian Barnes, Veress looks to hold down the No. 2 court to himself this year, where he forged a 9-7 record as a freshman last year. He has had an outstanding fall, advancing to the semi-finals at the Omni Hotels Northwest Regional Challenge at Santa Clara in October.

'Balazs' attitude is so positive and he's such a hard worker,' Wright said. 'He's not easy to bear and he's a very smart player. He sees things on the court that a lot of the other players don't see.'

With the junior Kowalcyk, who posted an 11-10 dual record in courts No. 2 through No. 5, challenging Veress for time on the No. 2 and No. 3 courts, the top half of the Bears singles lineup looks as solid as ever.

Competing for playing time on the lower half of the lineup will be Exon, sophomore Wayne Wong, and junior Ben Miles.

Exon signed on with the Bears after three seasons with the Waves. Although he started slow this fall, he rallied to win his final five matches, including a victory in the singles consolation final at the Omni Hotels Northwest Regional Championship.

Wong is among the returnees from last year's squad, where he split in dual play, going 3-3 on the No. 5 and No. 6 courts. Perhaps Cal's most improved player-after a strong fall in which he went 8-3 and was the runner-up at the Bulldog Classic in Fresno-Wong is primed for more playing time in the 2002 campaign.

'He has made the transition from junior play to collegiate play,' said Wright. 'He returns more focused this year, and brings a very positive attitude.'

Miles returns to the team after battling injuries throughout the fall which kept him out of all but one match.

Two players have advanced from Cal's club squad to join the varsity ranks this season.

Jeff King looks to make the difficult transition to Division 1 tennis. Wright explains that 'King has played some of his best tennis this fall. He has a 'big serve' and a great attitude on the court. He raises the level of the people around him.'

Joining King from the club squad is junior Kevin Patrick, who brings a workman-line attitude to the squad.

Looking to combine experience with youth, Wright's squad will feature five new freshmen this season in Conor Niland, Mik Ledvonova, Patrick Briaud, and Dean Wallace.

Niland comes to Cal after spending the summer playing on the ATP circuit, and not losing a singles or doubles match in his final two years of high school play. Wright is looking for Niland to 'provide a spark' to the team this season as a freshman.

Ledvonova is a late addition to Cal's team, signing on with the Bears after the conclusion of the 2001 fall season. He comes to Berkeley after spending time in junior international competition, and could be what Wright terms a 'significant starter' for the Bears this season.

Briaud had a solid fall, posting an 8-4 record, including a trip to the consolation finals in the Bulldog Classic consolation draw.

'He is a very quick study,' said Wright. 'Patrick has improved tremendously in the fall, winning a lot of matches. He has a great competitive attitude, and is one of the most disciplined players on the team.'

Wallace 'played the best tennis of his life this fall,' said his coach. 'He is a very talented player who is capable of stunning upsets.'

While experimenting with different doubles teams during the fall, Wright has not settled on any definite pairings yet for this season.

The doubles 'are very wide open right now,' said Wright. 'We have several very good doubles players, and we're looking for a pairing to have good chemistry together.'

One of the intriguing possibilities mentioned by Wright are teaming Fruttero and Kowalczyk together when they return in the spring. Veress and Miles also might team up for doubles.

In the fall, the Bears employed seven different doubles teams on the courts. Only the team of King and Briaud played together through all three tournaments. The pair advanced to the doubles quarterfinal at the Bulldog Classic in Fresno.

Another team-which only played together at the Omni Hotels Northwest Regional Challenge-was Veress and Exon. The duo won two matches at the tournament, making it to the final eight.

But with Wright's squad, which used 12 different tandems last season, Cal finds strength in numbers, with several key players looking to combine in various pairings, ready to win matches for the Bears.

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