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Monday, September 18, 2017

My American Collegiate Invitational Recap; Interviews with the Eight Men Participants

I wrapped up the American Collegiate Invitational at the US Open with this article for the Tennis Recruiting Network. Stanford's Tom Fawcett and Ohio State's Francesca Di Lorenzo won the titles and with those title comes qualifying wild cards into next year's US Open. Last week I provided excerpts from my interviews with all eight women's participants. Below are the conversations I had with the eight men's competitors.

William Bushamuka, University of Kentucky senior
(Bushamuka lost to Brandon Holt 6-2, 6-2)

On his last-minute inclusion as an alternate: I was in class when I found out and I called my mom and my coach and told them I was going to come here.

On his schedule during the summer:
I went to Africa this summer to play some Futures, and that was fun. There’s a big Challenger in Lexington and I played that. I lost (to JP Smith of Australia), but I had a good match.

On switching from representing Congo to the United States after juniors:
I was born here in New York, but my dad is originally from Congo.

On his schedule for this fall:
I’m going to play a bunch of ITA tournaments. I’m going to Malibu [the Oracle Masters this weekend], then All Americans in Tulsa, Regionals. Then probably some Challengers, I’d like to play in some Challengers over the fall.

On what’s improved most in his game while in college:
I’d say my mental game. I was a little bit crazy in juniors, but I feel like I’ve matured a lot thanks to my coach Cedric [Kaufman]. My team also helped me a lot. I think overall I’ve improved a lot from juniors.

On his goals for this season: I’m hoping to be Top 10, Top 5, that’s where I’m trying to aim. To get really far in NCAAs as a team and individually. Hopefully we can do something great this season and I think we can with the team we have this year.

Christopher Eubanks, Georgia Tech senior
(Eubanks lost to Michael Redlicki 6-2, 6-4)

On his summer highlight: Close between playing in the first round here and getting my first tour-level wins in Atlanta. Those two are neck and neck, though maybe even the doubles win here (partnering with Christian Harrison to beat Mikhail Youzhny and Mischa Zverev in the first round). That was pretty cool. It’s been fun from beginning to end.

On what he’s learned about his game during the summer: I think I’ve gained a little bit of professionalism, mainly off the court stuff is the biggest thing for me. I’m going about that extra stuff a little bit more diligently and learning as I go, making adjustments throughout matches, things like that.

On his schedule this fall: I’m taking the fall off, going to play primarily some Challengers  and maybe throw some $25Ks in. We’ve got to manage it as we go, but that’s the plan now, play a few Challengers and see where it goes from there. Kenny [Georgia Tech head coach Thorne] has been influential in devising what the next course of action is going to be.

On his academic status: I’m a senior 24, 25 hours away from graduation. Pretty close to getting my degree.


Thai Kwiatkowski, recent University of Virginia graduate

(Kwiatkowski lost to Tom Fawcett 7-6(5), 6-4)

On the contrast between competing in the ACI and the main draw of the men's singles: It's different for sure, but if you can't enjoy playing at the US Open maybe you shouldn't play at all.

On taking Mischa Zverev to five sets in the first round of men's singles:
It was an incredible experience and a real bummer that I lost out on that. That one hurt a lot more. To be honest this doesn't really mean that much until you get to the finals. There was a lot a money and a lot of points on the [Zverev] match last week. It's every kid's dream to play in the main draw of the US Open and I really cherish the moment and am happy that I got that experience, but it's a tough loss. It lets you know where your level is, but at the same time, losing 6-3 in the fifth set or losing 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 is the same result. But it was positive overall and I have no regrets with how I competed.

On the $50,000 prize money earned from that match: It definitely gives me an opportunity to play in 2018. I graduated with a business degree from UVA, so there's massive opportunity cost every day I step out on the tennis court, so I have to understand that and do my best day in and day out, because I could be doing a lot of other things in my life. I know that eventually I will get into the business world. I think right now I'm playing tennis because I've played tennis my whole life and it's always been a dream and I know if I quit now and start working, I'll definitely enjoy that job, but I'll always have in the back of my mind that I should have played. I'm basically getting that out of my system and doing my best and seeing how far that can take me. I'm going to give myself probably to the end of next year, then reassess at the end of 2018.

On his fall schedule: Right now I'm trying to figure out where to live, where to train. I'm taking a lot of advice from people who have done it before and try to figure out a good balance. Get a lot of books to continue learning, because it's weird not being in a classroom anymore. There's so much down time on the tour, lying around, wasting a lot of time.

On his coaching arrangements: I'm working with my coach back in Charlotte, Bill Belser, and I'm also working with Carlos Benatzky at USTA.

On what he'll miss about college tennis: I'll miss everything about college tennis. Playing individual tournaments and college team tournaments isn't remotely close from enjoyment. It helps when you're winning three national championships in four years, but those bus rides, tough matches and celebrations. Thankfully we got to celebrate a lot, so it's pretty good memories and I'm still best friends with all those guys, talk to them everyday, so it's not too far away.

Alex Rybakov, TCU junior
(Rybakov lost to Alfredo Perez 7-5, 6-3)

On his sophomore year at TCU: My season went well. I won 23 matches in a row at one point, lost one match then lost to Alfredo [Perez] at NCAA individuals. It was a very good season overall individually. As a team it was good; we came up a little bit short to Ohio State in the quarters.

On his summer: I won my first Futures title, won a couple of rounds in Challengers, which I hadn't done before, so that was good. I’m definitely progressing, it’s just tough I couldn’t get it done here. I didn’t play badly, but there’s a couple of things I need to keep working on.

On the success of former teammate Cam Norrie: He’s definitely helped me a lot. And seeing what he’s done transitioning to the ATP level is definitely a positive for me, that I can possibly do the same thing. We’ve had a good two seasons [as teammates] where we’ve pushed ourselves in practice and we've become close, good friends. Now that he’s left, I would like to, obviously, follow in his footsteps, take the No. 1 spot and do what he did last year, which was basically dominate. It’s easier said than done, but I’d like to replicate what he’s done.

On his academic progress after starting in January of 2016: I’m doing communication studies, that’s my major. When you first get to school it’s tough to get in a rhythm, with class and practice, but once you’re a couple of weeks in it, you kind of get into the schedule and it goes pretty well. I’m not doing mechanical engineering, so I think the classes are obviously doable if you put in the time to study. I’m a second semester sophomore; I’ve done some classes to catch up. I'll be a first semester junior in the spring. If I stay all four years, I’ll need an extra semester to finish my degree.

On playing regular scoring during the event: I don’t mind going back and forth. I think it’s honestly easier to go from no-ad back to ad. But I don’t really mind either one; I probably prefer playing with ads, just because that's what they do everywhere else. I think it’s good for the college atmosphere to have no-ad, there’s a bit more pressure, more excitement, but I don’t think it really makes a difference. The same with the shot clock and everything. I didn’t really notice it too much.

Brandon Holt, University of Southern California sophomore
(Holt defeated William Bushamuka 6-2, 6-2, lost to Michael Redlicki 4-6, 6-0, 6-3)

On returning to the National Tennis Center: I feel like I've been here more than anyone else. First time I was here, I was zero years old and I came here (with mother Tracy Austin and father Scott Holt) every single year until, I want to say, eighth grade. Then I played the juniors, but there was a little hiatus in high school. So I'm definitely comfortable here; I love it here and of course I'm happy to play. It was a treat to get the call (to fill a spot as an alternate).

On his plans for the fall: I'm going to play the Oracle Masters and I think I'll be all right by then [after a muscle injury worsened at ACI). And I think then a Futures? But I'll have to look at the schedule; I'm not really the guy to ask on that, which isn't a good thing.

On his freshman year: It was definitely positive. I had a back injury from the French Open juniors two years ago, which kind of lingered through the year, so I was kind of on and off with my back. Every three weeks my back would kind of go out. I had a stress fracture in my first rib and then I have two disc issues, but I've got them all figured out and they're all better basically; I've been doing some exercises to get back on the right track. The year was kind of tough, but I played well and did well.

On his goals for this year: It's tough to say. I've got a lot of goals. I don't really set too many goals, maybe that's something I should start doing. Win the tournament I'm about to play. No ranking goals. I think we have a chance to win the NCAA [team] championship. We've got two new freshmen who are very good I think and we lost two seniors. But I think the replacements will be good and we've all been improving a lot over the summer, really working hard. Our coaching is great and I've seen a huge improvement in everyone and I think we're on an upward trend right now and getting better.

Alfredo Perez, University of Florida junior:
(Perez defeated Alex Rybakov 7-5, 6-3, lost to Tom Fawcett 6-1, 6-2)

On rubbing shoulders with the world's best tennis players at the US Open: It was a really good experience, I really enjoyed being able to play on the same courts as the professionals. Yesterday I was eating lunch and I looked back and Rafa (Nadal) was eating lunch two feet away from me. Today I walk in he's eating lunch again and playing this Spanish board game Parchis that I play all the time with my family. I couldn't believe it. The great Rafa Nadal plays this game, I was really surprised.

On his goals for the coming season: Keep improving and playing my game and being good enough that hopefully my teammates will have trust in me that when I step on the court I'll win my match. I would like to be SEC Player of the Year and go farther in the NCAAs (he lost in the round of 16 in May), hopefully win it. But the goal is to improve as much as I can.

On his academic path and career after pursuing pro tennis: I'm studying International Studies, especially in the Caribbean. I'm focusing on tennis right now, but I would like to help countries like Cuba; they are not doing so good, so help the people there. My family is from Cuba, but we live now in Miami.

On the Gator freshmen competing in the US Open Juniors: I'm always excited by new guys, getting to know them, making friendships that last forever. They're really good guys and really good tennis players at the same time, so that's a bonus.

Michael Redlicki, University of Arkansas graduate student


(Redlicki defeated Christopher Eubanks 6-2, 6-4 and Brandon Holt 4-6, 6-0, 6-3; lost to Tom Fawcett 7-6(4), 6-7(6), 6-4)

On competing in the ACI and playing the final on the Grandstand: We all love coming to New York City, it's one of the coolest place on earth, so who wouldn't love to be able to invited to play at the US Open on the main courts during the main tournament in New York City? It doesn't get better than that. You feel it, you certainly feel it,  On Court 5 you feel it, on Grandstand it's a whole other experience. Huge thanks to the USTA for setting this whole event up and putting us on the Grandstand. We both sincerely appreciate it.

On completing his master's degree in business:  I just have two classes which will end in December and I'll graduate. It's an MBA with a concentration in finance. That'll be done in December and in January I'll go out on tour.

On playing full time next year: I have been putting a really large emphasis on school. It is tough, for a master's degree a lot more is required from you as a student. A lot of times people in these programs are way older than 23. A lot more is expected of them, they've been around the block more than once, so it's tough. So I'm really happy to have my master's and have it be in my pocket and have it as mental security more than anything going on the pro tour. I think being able to be on the tour with a clear head is invaluable.

On missing a golden opportunity: I'm upset because there is no flight out of LaGuardia after 2:30 tomorrow [due to Hurricane Irma]. I was actually asked to hit with Kevin [Anderson] tomorrow at 1:30; because he's playing Rafa they were going to use the lefty warmup. I would never think in my life I would tell a US Open finalist I can't warm up, because I have a flight to catch. I wish him all the best, a former Illini, and [Illinois head coach] Brad Dancer is a very close friend of mine. I'm wishing he can make some history tomorrow; to beat Rafa would be really special, that would be great.

Tom Fawcett, Stanford senior
(Fawcett defeated Thai Kwaitkowski 7-6(5), 6-4, defeated Alfredo Perez 6-1, 6-2 and Michael Redlicki 7-6(4), 6-7(6), 6-4)

On playing the final on the Grandstand: I've never played on a court like that before. Although there wasn't too many people out there because of the timing, it was really cool. Hawkeye didn't go well, I used all my Challenges and wasn't successful with any of them. It was cool; I've never had that system before in place and I thought it was interesting to play with it out there.

On his academic progress: I'm a senior. I'm studying science, technology and society. We have four or five guys on our team with that major, so it's a popular one.

On his plans after graduation: Playing pro tennis, that's the goal.

On incoming freshman Axel Geller, a two-time finalist at junior slams this summer: It's incredible. He's doing some great things, playing amazing tennis. We're all excited to have him there and push us to get better. I don't know him too well. I've seen him at this tournament and on his visit to Stanford, but we've gotten close from those two times and I can tell we're going to be pretty good friends.

On prospects for Stanford team this season: I'm really excited. We've got a great group of guys, everyone's pretty good and we have really good team chemistry. I think it's going to be a good year for us.

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