Long Path Leads To Oregon
Ivailo Keremedchiev literally learned to walk on a tennis court. He's looking to take the next big steps in his tennis career at Oregon.
A native of Bulgaria, Keremedchiev joined the UO men's tennis program this fall as a junior transfer from Louisiana. Of the 37 times he took the court in singles and doubles play this past spring, Keremedchiev did so in the No. 1 spot 30 times, against a schedule heavy on competition from the Big 12 and SEC.
"He's played the best already," UO coach Nils Schyllander said. "So there shouldn't really be any learning curve for him, adapting to the Pac-12."
Keremedchiev has spent his life seeking out higher levels of competition on the tennis court. At a young age he travelled throughout Europe developing his game. He enrolled at Louisiana as the next step, but in the back of his mind he hoped to transfer to a Power 5 school eventually.
This September, Keremedchiev took that next step in his development when he joined the Ducks.
"I've been really excited to come here for a long time," he said last week, his first full week in Eugene. "It's finally happening, and I'm excited to see what's coming in the future."
Whatever Keremedchiev's future was to hold, from an early age he knew it would unfold on the tennis court. His parents both played the game, and though they did so "just for fun," Keremedchiev said, he picked up a racquet by the time he was 4 years old.
The game is so deeply rooted in his life that Keremedchiev's first steps as a baby were on a tennis court. As the story goes, his mother stopped play one day because she was worried she'd left the oven on at home. So, his father ran off to check on it.
"And I just started walking," Keremedchiev said. "He actually missed it."
His father didn't miss much else. He was deeply influential in steering Keremedchiev from his first love in sport, soccer, to a focus on tennis. The rewards have been rich.
As a junior, Keremedchiev reached the pinnacle in his home country, becoming the No. 1 ranked player in Bulgaria. His freshman spring at Louisiana was abbreviated by the pandemic, but he went 7-2 in 2020, with five wins at No. 2 singles and two more in the No. 1 position.
Keremedchiev played 17 of his 19 matches this past spring at No. 1 singles, winning eight times. He was also 10-4 in doubles play, a skill Schyllander particularly appreciates.
"That's been one of our strengths," the UO coach said. "It's so important to secure momentum for the whole dual match; it's worth a whole lot more than just one point.
"Last year, for the first time in quite a few years we didn't win the amount of doubles points that we wanted to. That's definitely something we wanted to address, and he's going to help us a lot right there."
Keremedchiev said doubles play is all about aggression. Singles, on the other hand, requires being a bit more patient and tactical. That's the mindset he has taken to his career progression, as well.
When he left Bulgaria, Keremedchiev wanted to compete at a Power 5 college program. He knew he had to develop his resume a bit more to do so, and thus chose to begin his career at Louisiana, a quality program in its own right that would allow Keremedchiev to test himself against players from Texas, Oklahoma and LSU.
For two years, he developed his game and waited for his opportunity. This offseason, it arrived.
"I always wanted to be at a big school like Oregon," he said. "So this is a dream come true."
Keremedchiev joins a UO program coming off a second-round NCAA Tournament appearance. The Ducks opened the postseason with a win over Alabama in which they lost the doubles point and had to win four straight singles matches, the last involving No. 1 player Emmanuel Coste, who has since graduated.
With Keremedchiev on hand, the Ducks hope to be on the winning side of a few more doubles points this year. And they hopefully will be able to withstand the loss of Coste, as well.
But though Keremedchiev faced pressure to be the No. 1 player at Louisiana, he'll have a little more competition for that spot with the Ducks. Joshua Charlton is back after playing 10 matches in the top spot last spring, and Quinn Vandecasteele is a former blue-chip recruit who now has a season of collegiate experience under his belt.
"He's shown in his first week that he's got every shot," Schyllander said of Keremedchiev. "Now to be able to be at this level and around some of these athletes every day, and not just be the big dog, I think it's going to push him to new heights that not even he knows he has."
Could the kid who learned to walk on a tennis court sprout wings and fly now that he's at Oregon? Keremedchiev is ready to find out.
"I've always loved playing against the best players, because that makes you better – even if you lose, at the end of the day you're still better," Keremedchiev said. "I was wanting to be somewhere that I wasn't the best guy, that I can learn from somebody and pulled to be even better. Improve my game and chase higher goals."