Men's Tennis Season Preview
Jan. 8, 2012
SEATTLE - Last season a senior-laden Husky men's tennis team tied for third in the Pac-10 and reached the NCAA tournament for the 17th consecutive season, advancing to the second round. But as is the nature of college athletics, last year's experienced squad gives way to the next year's group of youngsters, and Washington will have a much different look to its lineup in 2012.
Head Coach Matt Anger is, of course, no stranger to this phenomenon, and the winningest coach in school history can hardly wait to see his current team tested.
"We definitely had a lot of turnover on the team, but it has been an exciting fall just with the eagerness and the work ethic I've seen from our guys out there on the court," says Anger. "They're looking for extra practice, and I've been very impressed with their desire to improve as much as possible.
Washington only has two seniors on the 10-man roster, and just two players that have started more than five dual singles matches, but with the inexperience comes a desire to work hard, earn a spot in the lineup and prove themselves on the court.
Of the new additions, Anger says "I'm eager to get the season started and see where they are, because I think they are going to do very well."
The most experienced player on the squad will hold the top position, as junior Kyle McMorrow looks to continue to raise his game and solidify himself as one of the best in the Pac-12, and by extension, the country. The new individual rankings released last week marked a new high point for the Thousand Oaks, California native, as McMorrow came in at No. 15, the first Husky to reach that high since 2005.
McMorrow has now competed in the main draw at the past three majors, and this fall he picked up three wins over players now ranked in the top-25. Still, with the graduation of Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, this will be the first year that McMorrow is expected to hold down the No. 1 singles spot each time out.
With UW's tough schedule, McMorrow will face a long line of highly-ranked opponents. Even with his quality wins this fall, Coach Anger thinks consistency will be the key to the junior's season. "Kyle has just gotten a little more solid each year. He has become more well-rounded, and that's when you're more consistent with your performance. Because if you're doing something really well in one area, it might be fine against one opponent, but the day comes when that style doesn't work against someone. But when you're well-rounded you can handle the different challenges from different opponents. And that's what gets guys up into the top-10."
After McMorrow, the returner with the most match play is Marton Bots, who is really just in his second full season despite being a junior in eligibility. Bots was a very consistent winner in the lower half of UW's lineup last season, and he'll be asked to put his skills to use higher up in the singles lineup this year, while also likely being a contributor in doubles. His 18-6 dual singles record was second only to McMorrow last year.
"I think last year by the end of the season Marton was still lower in our lineup, but he was playing better than that," Anger says. "He had started the year with his back being sore and then finished the season that way as well. But he's done very well and is as eager as anybody to get back out this year. He will certainly be higher in the lineup." The Hungarian can generate winners from either side to go with a big serve and solid work at net. Anger says, "He's got the shot making ability to play with anyone."
The Huskies have two outstanding senior leaders in Matt Stith and Skyler Tateishi, who each put the team first and have done everything asked by their coaches. Stith has contributed regularly in doubles throughout his career, and Tateishi was playing his best tennis last year before a rotator cuff injury forced him to use a redshirt. He played a couple matches in the fall but was not able yet to serve at one hundred percent, but every day is getting a little better.
"They are very good team guys," says Anger. "They've been very valuable and they are that much closer now to being able to contribute consistently on the court. I think Matt has gotten himself to where he's competing better on the court, and he has to stay healthy to keep moving forward. And if he can just stay that course, he'll be a valuable member to the squad. And Skyler is very fit, but he's just getting ready.
"Both guys know what challenges we have through the season and the Pac-12 and the NCAA tournament so they will be there to help us."
Sophomore Max Manthou is the only other Husky to see action in the singles lineup last year. As a freshman, Manthou started both NCAA matches for UW, gaining valuable experience. This fall the improvement was evident, as Manthou got his first ranked win by upsetting Stanford's 64th-ranked Denis Lin at Regionals, going 5-2 overall.
The former four-time Washington State singles champion "is going to be a big surprise for people this year," Anger believes, saying things began to click for Manthou at the end of the spring last year, followed by a summer of hard work. "I think he has a better understanding of his strengths and how he can go out there on the court and play against different styles. He's using the natural ability of his quickness. He may not have one "best" shot, but he can make life difficult for his opponent. I'm excited to see Max come out and play because I've got high hopes for him."
Another second year player that Anger is clearly high on is Nicholas Kamisar, who redshirted the 2011 season. At the time it was a tough call to redshirt Kamisar, but Anger says the decision was definitely the right one now.
I'm very excited to see Nick out there. We saw the improvement during the redshirt year, and now we're going to get some reward for that work."
Kamisar, a local product from Sammamish, puts every bit of his 5-10 frame into his heavy forehand. "He's competing well, hitting the ball as hard as anyone," says Anger. "I think he's a very good story for someone who was ranked lower in the juniors, but is going to have a very good college career."
Washington welcomes four new players into the mix this year, two of which have already seen action in the fall, one who is planning to redshirt, and another that just joined the squad for the start of winter quarter.
One of the top U.S. juniors in the country over the past several years, Emmett Egger looks poised for a busy dual match season. Egger got his first tourney win in the fall, beating Oregon's top player in Eugene to take the PNW Intercollegiates, after making the quarterfinals of ITA NW Regionals. Egger hails from Issaquah, so Anger had him on his radar for years, but now working with him on a daily basis has left him more impressed. "What I liked when I signed him was how well-rounded he was with his ability to do different things on the court. As far as hitting well off the ground and being able to play defense when necessary; being able to come in and attack. Those were the things I liked," Anger says. "He's grown through the fall with his work ethic. It doesn't matter who's on the other side of the net. He's going to be great for us in singles and in doubles. His work ethic is something I usually see in upperclassmen, so if that is where he's at now, just wait a few years."
Also seeing the court in the fall is California native Jeff Hawke, who had lots of junior success in doubles and teamed with Manthou in the fall for some nice wins. "There were parts of his doubles game that were very instinctive and there are aspects of his game that are stronger than I thought like his serving and return game. I think he's helping round out our roster, and he could start sooner rather than later for us."
Adding to the influx of local talent, which also includes Manthou, Kamisar, Egger, and Tateishi, is freshman Dragos Puscalau from Newcastle, Washington. Set to redshirt his first year, Anger compares Puscalau's situation to that of Kamisar a year ago. "He is doing a great job taking advantage of the opportunity, working on his game and staying motivated. Dragos has made a lot of progress and he's farther ahead than I thought he might be at this point."
The newest Husky is Viktor Farkas, who comes to Seattle from Bratislava, Slovakia. Farkas earned a couple ATP tour points last year and could make an immediate impact on the lineup.
Anger, who made the trip to Slovakia in the fall to see his game in person, describes Farkas' style as "an aggressive baseline player. He is very smart, smooth, and he strikes the ball very well. For guys to start off well in college they need to serve well, and he can. Like Emmett, he should be able to hit the ground running."
Early season matches will be especially important in sorting out the doubles lineup. "Where we were impressive in the fall was how consistently solid we were in singles. All the guys were playing tough matches, they weren't backing down." But Anger explains "If you were to notice any change in our team from last year with the turnover, it was that our doubles play was a little slow to develop. And I think at the end of the fall that was picking up, but now coming off the break we need to get started right away with that area."
A new wrinkle at the end of the season comes with the inaugural Pac-12 Team Championships. The men will go away from the individual tournament and crown the team champ in Ojai, California. The teams seeded five through eight will play each other while the top four teams have a first round bye, letting the lower teams go for an extra win that could help their tourney chances.
"I'm excited for the new format," says Anger. "My dream was to try to have two separate events, a team and an individual. I hate to see the individual go, but the conference is always strong at Ojai."
Washington will hit its first serve on Jan. 13 when it hosts Seattle U. That will be a rare match this year against an unranked opponent, as UW faces 18 ranked teams out of its 22 regular season matches, giving the Huskies plenty of opportunities to test themselves.