Fall success could be springboard to spring...
Nov. 8, 2012
By Matt Park, Communication Services
Arizona tennis player Kieren Thompson is determined to win as an individual but more so to raise the expectations of the entire team.
"Our 2013 season starts now," Thompson said. "I love the fall tournaments because they help everyone become prepared for team competition in the spring."
The Aggie Invitational, ITA Men's All American Championships, and Aztec Invitational are just some of the fall tournaments that Head Coach Tad Berkowitz and his players have participated in during the last month-plus.
This past weekend, the men's tennis team traveled to Las Vegas, Nev., for the Larry Easley Memorial Classic. Among the Wildcat players that competed, Thompson led the charge by advancing to the finals in the Flight One singles bracket.
"My first match was a bit sloppy. I won the first set, lost the second but was able to win the third," Thompson said. "I won the quarterfinal match in two close sets and the guy I played was ranked last year. I felt confident heading into the semifinals and took that match in two sets as well."
Unfortunately, Thompson, a Wildcat junior, fell in the finals, but the Brisbane, Australia, native's performance was a testament to the progress that the Arizona men's tennis team has been making throughout the fall.
"We have been training a lot harder this year," Thompson said. "This has probably been the hardest that I ever trained in my time at Arizona. We've been grinding it out on the court, weight room and conditioning drills. Frank (Davis) is our new fitness trainer, and he has us waking up around four or five in the morning for conditioning."
(On the ground level of the McKale Center, Skip Custis runs the McKale Food Stop, where the common customers are Arizona athletes trying to fuel or refuel before or after practice. In a recent video for the Arizona Wildcats Athletics website, Skip gave insight about the new team that frequently visits his operation.
"With the new strength and conditioning coaches, the new team that I am happy to notice is the tennis players," Skip said. "As soon as we open the doors, they are the first ones in here because they just got done with an hour and half of conditioning.")
Thompson and his fellow teammates understand the purpose of a hardworking preseason.
"It is all going to pay off," Thompson said of the work to date.
One of Thompson's strengths on the court is his ability to persevere through matches and maintain his optimism. Thompson often takes his matches into third sets and playoffs throughout his years at Arizona.
"I love the feeling of competition," Thompson said. "If I lose the first set or go down three-love, it just makes me more determined and focused. I always see myself winning the set because the match isn't over till the last ball is hit. I just remind myself this is for the team."
While tennis is widely known as an individual sport, there is a team aspect to the game, especially on the collegiate level.
"I wanted to play tennis in college because it's a team sport," Thompson said. "It's an amazing feeling when all your teammates are playing on the courts next to you, and you're looking at each other to pump them up. Tennis makes you competitive as a team. Each player drives off of each other's competiveness, and it makes us better."
Along with Thompson, Arizona sophomore Carlos Bermudez also competed in the Easley Classic. After being eliminated from the Flight Two singles bracket, Bermudez bounced back and won the Flight Two consolation singles bracket.
"Kieren had an influence on everyone," Bermudez said. "I fed off of his competiveness and energy, along with the rest of the team. That's the thing, everybody counts on each other. It's not just about you anymore."
As winter approaches, Bermudez, Thompson and the rest of the Arizona men's tennis team continue to wake up early for ambitious practices at the LaNelle Robson Tennis Center to prepare for the tough Pac-12 season.
Last on the fall schedule for Berkowitz's squad is the Dick Vitale Lakewood Ranch Intercollegiate Clay Court Classic. Berkowitz will be sending sophomore Andre Vidaller to Sarasota, Fla., to represent the Arizona Wildcat men's tennis team.
The Wildcats will open their spring season in earnest with a home match against Northern Arizona in mid-January. The team assembles for spring drills after the Christmas break.