Men's Tennis 2010 Season Preview
Jan. 13, 2010
Washington men's tennis kicks off its 2010 dual match season this Thursday at home against Gonzaga. The match is set for a 4 p.m. start in the Nordstrom Tennis Center. The Huskies, ranked 26th in the preseason ITA national poll, will be looking to extend their incredible streak of 15-consecutive NCAA Championship appearances, all of them coming under 16th-year head coach Matt Anger.
The 2009 season ended in the second round of the NCAA tourney, as Washington was stopped by Texas in Austin. The Longhorns proceeded to make the Final Four. The lasting memory of that weekend, however, was UW's improbably first round comeback win over Texas Tech. Down 0-3, Washington earned three-set victories at third, fourth, fifth, and sixth singles to pull out the 4-3 win. Tobi Obenaus clinched the win at No. 6 after he had faced two match points in the second set. That determined effort will hopefully permeate the team's spirit this season.
The Huskies have a number of key returners to rely on this winter and spring, starting with junior Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan. The Chennai, India native was named to the All-Pac-10 First Team last year, the seventh Husky to earn that honor and first since Alex Slovic. Nedunchezhiyan was ranked as high as 31st during the season and made his first NCAA Singles Championship.
Another junior, Martin Kildahl of Oslo, Norway, was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 player in 2009, and is back in action after sitting out the fall while recovering from foot surgery. Kildahl was 14-5 at No. 3 singles last year, and he and senior Derek Drabble were ranked 11th in the fall preseason doubles rankings though they've been unable to compete until now.
Drabble, from Johannesburg, South Africa, is the only senior on the roster and has been a solid three-year starter that's poised for his best season yet. Drabble was 10-8 in dual play last year and had one of the key wins over Texas Tech.
Four freshmen join the squad, though only two will see action this year. The headliner is Kyle McMorrow of Thousand Oaks, Calif., who Coach Anger expects to immediately play in the top half of the singles lineup. Nick Tchernikov of British Columbia has also impressed the staff early on. Piriya Saengsuwarn and Marton Bots will train for down the road.
The following is a Q&A with Coach Anger with his thoughts on the upcoming season and 2010 Husky roster.
GoHuskies.com: Looking back at the way last season ended, how important was it to get that NCAA win under the team's belt and do you think that has carried over with the guys in any way?
Matt Anger: I think last year really was a step in the right direction for us. Not just starting at the end of the season but throughout the year we proved to be very consistent. Looking at the year end rankings the fact that we didn't have a loss to a team ranked outside the Top-20 showed that we were very solid. I think that's been building for two years. The core of our team last year were sophomores and they took that step of winning the first round of the NCAA tournament and having the opportunity to go further. We played a team in Texas in the second round that was very strong, they ended up making the Final Four. But our guys saw that they can advance in the tournament, and know that if we are doing better throughout the season you earn a chance at a better draw. You kind of get what you deserve when you get there.
This year we've got to set our sights on teams that are highly ranked and start knocking them off, and that's what was missing last year. The fact that we were able to play top teams close--USC won the national championship and we lost to them 4-3 down at their place the month before--I think our guys can look back at matches like that and say, `okay, we don't need a miracle.' I think a lot of our guys are playing the best tennis of their lives. So it is exciting. I think we're continuing to build. I think the guys are looking at this year and they're also looking at next year since we have just one senior on our team in Derek. They have a lot to play for and a lot to work towards.
GoHuskies: How would you rate the fall season?
Matt Anger: I'm a little bit torn on the fall. I would look at it and say the fall was very positive when I go out to practice and I think that nearly all of our guys are playing the best tennis of their lives. I think what we did in the fall is obviously working. However when I look at the tournaments I think individually we could have done better. There were a few things out of our control. Martin Kildahl missed the whole fall with his foot surgery from the summer. It's exciting to have him back on the court now, but that was something that was missing. Kyle McMorrow only played one tournament, and he's an outstanding freshman, he's going to be fun for Husky fans to watch. We held him out even though he wasn't that hurt just to be safe. So between those two guys to have one tournament, all of a sudden that's part of the reason why our results in the fall are a little light. And I think our older guys were hitting the ball well, but playing okay.
Jeevan struggled his first two tournaments but finished very well winning his last two tournaments, so he's headed in the right direction. Derek Drabble is doing better than ever. So we're set up well, but in a dream scenario we would have had something to really show everyone else what I think we're capable of. We don't have that yet, but I still like the way we're playing the game.
GoHuskies: Looking at the lineup, let's start with the team's only senior, Derek Drabble. He seemed to have a solid fall.
Matt Anger: Derek is more consistent than ever. He is playing his best tennis. He's a little more well-rounded. He's fitter than ever. I think he understands the game better and he's healthy, so it's exciting for him. That's the progression you want for everybody, you want them to be set up the best for their last year to be their best, and he's ready for that. He's playing great doubles. So I think it's an exciting time for our team, for me, but very exciting for Derek.
GoHuskies: Jeevan Nedunchhezhiyan had a big year last year for sure, but it probably ended on a bit of a downer for him.
Matt Anger: Without a doubt it did. I would say his freshman year, like a lot of freshmen, he showed glimpses and would have great matches but was kind of up and down. Then last year as a sophomore he did very well, and was much more consistent--through March. Then he got very sick, and did not recover well, and he did not finish well. So that's kind of been hanging over his head, how in April and May he wasn't playing his best tennis. So as much as he's excited about our first match, he's also looking at the long haul. He wants to put together five good months.
GoHuskies: How is Martin Kildahl doing after the foot surgery, and can you talk a little about his improvements last season?
Matt Anger: He's looking very good. He needs matches and that will come. There's no getting around that, but he's playing a lot of tennis. He's coming around faster than I would have thought. He came back earlier than we thought with the foot and is playing sets earlier than we thought. Martin probably had the greatest jump of everybody from his first year, where he was in and out of the lineup in singles, to last year being a very solid player at No. 3 singles. He was playing very strong doubles, and singles-wise he was right on that border of being in the rankings.
He saw the jump he made and guys want to do that again, so I think the injury was frustrating, but a little bit of that frustration can motivate people. He also has a great outlook on his entire college career rather than one day making or breaking anything, and I think that's part of his improvement, he's able to look at the big picture. He understands that a setback of a couple of months isn't going to hold him back from playing his best tennis.
GoHuskies: Tobi Obenaus obviously had the signature win of the year last season against Texas Tech. He has always showed a lot of grit, how is his game progressing?Matt Anger: Alex Vlaski at our preseason banquet made the joke about how he had that incredible comeback towards the end of his career and I had mentioned to him during the match he'd never had one of those. Well Tobi now he's got that great comeback, so we want more matches now where we're ahead. And he is doing a super job, another guy playing his best.
GoHuskies: Both Brad Bator and Alex Rosinski got some dual play last year, especially in doubles, and both seemed to have their best falls yet.
Matt Anger: Brad Bator and Alex Rosinski have really stepped up. When I say we have guys playing their best tennis, they're two of those guys. I would say consistently we have had seven guys that are doing a great job singles and doubles. And other guys have too, but I would say those seven have separated themselves with the returners we've mentioned and Kyle.
Brad's last two tournaments, he won his last collegiate event, and did very well at the open event that we had here, losing to Jeevan. He is stronger--he's always been a good athlete, but he's just a little more fit tennis-wise--and he's pretty well-rounded. When you're well-rounded you can play against all styles. So he's going to be in the thick of things for us this year.
The same goes for Alex. He always struck the ball well, but has worked on how to play. I think he's pretty comfortable with how we've been trying to get him to play, and focusing on it, and it sounds weird but just knowing your limitations and knowing what you can do well and funneling your game into that eliminates a lot of mistakes. You're not trying to do things that you're incapable of. He's tough. So those two guys have obviously improved, but just for me and my confidence in them, I can't wait to put them out on the court.
GoHuskies: How have Matt Stith and Skyler Tateishi continued to refine their games?
Matt Anger: Skyler and Matt have both grown. They're adding to our depth. I'm sleeping a lot better when I think about our team, because during the year something always goes wrong. Someone gets sick or hurt, and I just don't think it's going to have the same effect on us this year. As a program, I look at how these guys have become more solid, and I realize that we have only one senior, and knowing that I'm going to sleep well for a while is great. It's comforting. But that being said, we've got work to do. We want to be moving up and moving up consistently.
GoHuskies: Focusing on the newcomers, talk a bit more about what Kyle McMorrow brings to the squad and where you think he'll fall in the order.
Matt Anger: He's going to play in the top half of our lineup. He's ready for that. We've been lucky. We've had a lot of good players come in as high level guys. Jeevan as a freshman did very well, and before that Alex Slovic and Alex Vlaski and Matt Hanlin. Eric Drew and Robert Kendrick, we've had some freshmen that have played high and done very well. He hasn't played a match yet, but where we're at right now I would put him in a class with those guys.
GoHuskies: What are your early impressions on Nick Tchernikov?
Matt Anger: I think Nick is going to do well for Washington. I would look at him a lot like Alex Rosisnki before, just how well he hits the ball, and now for him it's just kind of putting it together, and how he's playing points, and just how a match progresses. But Nick has been a very pleasant surprise. Obviously we wanted him but he's further along than I thought, and we're definitely going to look to get him some opportunities during the year.
GoHuskies: Then Piriya Saengsuwarn will redshirt the season?
Matt Anger: Yes, the plan with Jumbo from the beginning was to redshirt. There are things he can do well, we've just got to see if he can develop those where he's ready for college tennis. But he's intriguing.
GoHuskies: You guys also very recently added another player, what is his story?
Matt Anger: His name is Marton Bots and I'm very excited about Marton. He just joined the team here this week in the winter quarter. Unfortunately for Marton it looks like he's going to be sitting out this year until next January, though we'll be appealing this. He's coming out doing very well at practice. Great guy, getting along well, hitting the ball very well, and I couldn't be happier having him out there. When some guys come in I know exactly where they're going to be fitting in, with Martin it wasn't quite like that. He hadn't played as much the year and a half before coming in. So I guess I would put him in that category where he's much farther along than I thought. He's going to do very well for Washington.
GoHuskies: It seems like doubles play could be a definite strength for the team this season. How do you think you'll stack up compared to last year?
Matt Anger: I thought we were okay with the doubles point last year. By the end of the year we were doing much better at one and two, still struggling at third doubles. And I think this year we do have the bodies or the skills with more than six guys that are ready to play that I think we're going to be able to put three teams out there that are ready to go. It's not like last year where we were dropping off at a certain spot. I think we're just so much more solid from top to bottom.
I have three teams that we've paired together: Martin and Derek, Jeevan and Kyle, and Tobi and Alex. My frustration right now is Brad Bator is playing fantastic doubles. When we held Kyle out he played with Jeevan and they didn't miss a beat. He's coming back since the break he's doing the same thing. So he deserves to be out there, which is a great problem. So right now it's just kind of a chemistry thing, but if there's a problem I think he can play with a number of our guys.
Tobi and Alex have been working well together. They really know each other. I look at that team and I think back to Andy Posavac and Jeremy Berman, who started playing together when they were younger, and broke in at third doubles. Neither of them served that well, neither of them had played a lot of doubles, then by their senior year they were playing No. 1 doubles for us. And I remember at the National Team Indoors they didn't lose against Georgia, Duke, and Florida. They're a team that reminds me of them, just how they work together, which is what doubles is all about.
GoHuskies: Taking a look down the schedule, that first road trip to Arkansas should be a tough first challenge.
Matt Anger: A very good challenge, yes. I know the coach very well, Robert Cox, he's a very good coach that's been there a long time. They came out here two years ago and we got by them. We owed them the trip, and we wanted to put it on a good weekend day for them so they could get a good crowd. I think it's worked out well for us to have that match on the road before we go on the road a couple weeks later for the National Team Indoors. Last year we went down to Georgia, which is never an easy place to play. I thought we did a great job with the crowd, and yet I still think it was a factor in that match. We ended up losing 4-2 to them, and they were a good team that ended up making the final of the National Indoors, so if there's any experience we can get from this road match that'll help us in the Indoors, we'll take it.
GoHuskies: Your section for the National Indoor Qualifying looks extremely tough with Illinois, Boise State, and Virginia Tech all ranked between 15th and 27th.
Matt Anger: You look at all four teams, the fourth-ranked team of the group is 27th, I would say that's a tough regional. But in this, where you're playing two matches no matter what, that's great. We want to win, but regardless we know we're going to get two great matches. I'd rather go to places where you have a good college atmosphere and experience rather than go to a place that doesn't have that support. That's what makes it fun.
GoHuskies: Talk about if you could about this year's Northwest Shootout event.
Matt Anger: I'm looking forward to it, but it's funny I get a number of questions from people going `Mississippi State and East Tennessee State?' East Tennessee State sounds like a compass school, but they're very good at tennis. It seems like every time I'm at NCAAs I look down and say wait a second who's this guy? and he's from East Tennessee State. They've always got talented players. Those matches are going to be NCAA tournament type matches because they'll be against ranked teams that are going to affect how we set ourselves up for the NCAA tournament.
GoHuskies: The Pac-10 produced the NCAA Champion last season and I'm sure will be as tough as ever.
Matt Anger: I think every single team in the Pac-10 is better this year for sure on paper. That's the good news and the bad news. You want an easy day but at the same time you want those fun matches.