Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Sandgren Talks Junior and College Tennis at UTR All-Access; Gaston Resigns at Missouri; Should Division I Consider Simultaneous Doubles and Singles?

ATP No. 55 Tennys Sandgren was the guest on today's UTR All-Acess webinar, and although there was much discussion around his pro career, host Prakash Amritraj wisely began at the beginning, with Sandgren's junior career.

Amritraj obviously wasn't familiar with Sandgren's older brother Davey, who was an excellent junior player and, as a University of Tennessee senior played in the 2010 NCAA team final against USC. Tennys had joined the team that January, so they were able to compete as Volunteers together that one special season. Tennys gave credit to Davey for being the tennis pioneer in the family, blazing the trail for his younger brother. Asked if he had been a top junior from a young age, Sandgren said,

"I don't think I was ever seeded at the big national tournaments in the 14-and-unders. They always seemed overwhelming to me; you go to those big events and all the players would come together and all the names you would see on the ranking list....but then, around 15, 16, I started to hit some improvement. You could say it was a product of working hard, but I'm not sure what happened, but all of a sudden I started playing better tennis. By the end of 16s career, I won Clay Courts and Kalamazoo back-to-back, 2007 when I was 15 turning 16 was kind of my junior breakout year, when I took it a couple of extra steps up. I still remember 16s Kalamazoo, that was super special."

Sandgren knew by then that he wanted to be a professional tennis player, but his forays into Futures competition told him he wasn't ready.

"I wanted to play professional tennis, that was the dream. But I didn't have any good results in the Futures to warrant not going to college. I could barely get out of the second round of a Futures event. You're making, second round of a $10K, I don't know $270, I think and one point or two points. So you're getting to 800 in the world. It's something, it's not nothing, but you're certainly not making a living. I had always heard your late teens and your 20s, that's where you set yourself up in your life, so I didn't want to waste that."

Playing with his brother was part of the attraction of college, but he had thought he would turn pro after that first semester. But again, the results didn't come on the Pro Circuit that summer.

"I did the same thing, played summer Futures to see if I had improved and was ready to turn pro, that was what I was hoping to do, but I just wasn't ready still, so I decided to go back to school."

Sandgren said those two college seasons (he reached the NCAA singles semifinals in 2011, losing to teammate Rhyne Williams) helped him figure out who he was as a tennis player.

"Developing my strengths, what I'm actually good at. I really developed a strong base, a good baseline of my identity as a player. It's one thing to be a good junior, it's another thing entirely to try to transition that into adult tennis. Everybody's game is a little different; some of the younger guys have massive weapons, so it doesn't matter if they aren't as physical; they've got a huge serve and forehand, so they don't need to be as physical, whereas I was struggling to win points on my terms. But what I gained in college was an absolute strong physical base that I could pull from, be able to grind guys down and play long matches; I could handle the heat well and I wasn't fazed by three-setters, or if I lost the first set. Physically that is, emotionally was a different ballgame. Just learning to construct points around my game. I don't know how much better I got at ball striking in college, but I got a greater understanding on how to work hard, how to structure my days."

Coach Billy Heiser, a former coach of Sandgren's who is now coaching Alison Riske, made a cameo appearance to ask Sandgren three questions, including what he would say to his 16-year-old self now. Sandgren's answer: "Relax."

The 50-minute session, with many more sharp insights into what it takes to be a successful professional, will be available at the UTR YouTube channel.  Thursday's All-Access webinar will feature Sports psychologist Jim Loehr and Gordon Uehling on the topic Making of a Champion. Registration for the free event is open now at the UTR All-Access page.

In college tennis news, Missouri's women's head coach Colt Gaston has resigned "to pursue other opportunities" according to this release. Chris Wootton, who was the women's assistant at Southern California 2017-2019 before moving to the assistant's job at Missouri last fall, has been named interim head coach.

Earlier today I retweeted a blog post from Jeffrey Menaker, which proposes simultaneous singles and doubles matches as a way of compacting a college tennis dual match. I've always preferred this change to the one that was made in 2015, which brought back no-ad for both singles and doubles, and shortened the doubles from eight games to six. I have no illusions this proposal will have any impact--many of those who follow college tennis like the no-ad format--but I do think exploring options can't hurt, particularly with all the uncertainty accompanying collegiate sports these days.

In the bad news for collegiate tennis department, Fayetteville State, a Division II school, announced that it is dropping its women's tennis program.


fan said...

if simultaneous format is going to be employed, individual rankings will going to be a problem. There is no way Fall and Dual Spring individual rankings can be reconciled. Especially doubles, of course. Who'll play for NCAA doubles? Will NCAA then be played at the end of Fall season? Playing simultaneous format in Dual and playing individual NCAAs in May is ludicrous, because top players wouldn't have played doubles in months.

Or, top players might not even play doubles during Fall individual season; what for? They're not going to play doubles in Dual play. For myself I can't imagine the likes of Shibahara or Bolton NOT playing doubles. If Ena hasn't played doubles consistently all season during college, would she have risen so rapidly in WTA doubles...?