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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Men’s tennis untested

Last season was a frustrating one for the Arizona men’s tennis team.

The Wildcats finished No. 54 in the final International Tennis Association rankings with a 9-14 overall record and was winless in the brutal Pacific 10 Conference.

But while the team, as a whole, must wait until spring to recover from its past struggles, its individual members have the opportunity to regain some normalcy once the fall season opens up on Sept. 9 at the New Mexico State University Invitational.

The fall season features individual competition, more in accord with the typical formats seen in professional tennis, so players have a chance to distinguish themselves before the true team competition begins in the spring.

And while head coach Tad Berkowitz doesn’t feel like last season’s team lacked skill — he feels it just endured poor luck and injury — the 2011 roster has a completely revamped identity.

“This year we have a young group of guys,” Berkowitz said. “I am really excited about the group of guys we have.”

Youth is a major theme for the Wildcats this season, as the team lost four seniors from last year and now must rely on its talented yet inexperienced core to compete against some of the best collegiate players in the country.

One player who has an opportunity to make an impact this fall is sophomore Andre Vidaller. Vidaller left Santos, Brazil, in January 2011 to relocate to Tucson and join the Wildcats for their spring season. After finishing 11-10 in singles play during his first season in Arizona colors, Vidaller now has the chance to make a real impact.

“Early on (Vidaller) … assumed a little bit of a leadership position for us,” Berkowitz said of the then-freshman. “We expect great things from him.”

In addition to natural maturation, the extra time adjusting to the collegiate game may prove just as beneficial for the fledgling Brazilian, especially in terms of the playing surface.

“I’ve been playing (on clay courts) since I started playing tennis,” Vidaller said. “It’s tough — it’s a challenge for me.”

College tennis is played on hard, concrete courts unlike the softer, clay surfaces Vidaller was exposed to in Santos.

The unique format of collegiate tennis in the fall provides an added benefit to the athletes as they get the experience of playing in competitive matches against elite competition.

The goal of the fall season, Berkowitz said, is to “start developing these young guys and turn them into a team that competes and wins in the (Pac-12) and national level.”

And since the Wildcat fall roster features no seniors, the young players have a chance to quickly develop and regain their status of the top-25 team Berkowitz expects them to be.

Alongside Vidaller, Berkowitz looks for fellow sophomores Giacomo Miccini and Kieren Thompson to assume leadership roles and become the foundation of the team. The team is also adding three freshmen to the mix, so any form of competitive participation can go a long way.

The youthful Wildcats may face intense competition in the Pac-12, including three-time defending national champion USC.

After competing in Las Cruses, N.M., on Sept. 9-11, Arizona will compete in five more tournaments this fall season, concluding on Nov. 11 in Sarasota, Fla., with the Lakewood Ranch Collegiate Invitational.

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