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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Commentary: M-tennis finds its base on home court

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Mens doubles featuring Ravid Hazi and Geoff Embry of Arizona.
Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat Men’s doubles featuring Ravid Hazi and Geoff Embry of Arizona.

For every home Arizona men’s tennis match, there’s a banner that hangs outside LaNelle

Robson Tennis Center that reads “”Tennis Match Today.”” But most students don’t even know that the complex on the northeast side of campus is for tennis.

It’s the place where the men’s team makes its stand. A 14-1 home record during the 2009 spring season is no small accomplishment. The courts at LaNelle Robson are the same place where the men spend their time practicing because they know they have a chance for something special this season.

What’s on their minds?

A chance at one of the best seasons for the men’s tennis program in UA history.

After last year, when the Wildcats finished with an 18-6 record, a final ranking of No. 24 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association and a second-round NCAA tournament appearance, there was speculation that the 2009 spring season could have been the best in recent memory.

This year there is optimism. Last season can be topped.

Currently, the team has a 2-1 record and is ranked No. 23 in the ITA poll. With seven returning players and four newcomers, including two transfers — junior Borja Malo from the University of Georgia and junior Geoff Embry from the University of Oregon — the men bring a lot of experience to the table.

“”I’ve never been a part of a team that has showed that much depth,”” said head coach Tad Berkowitz, who earned Pacific 10 Conference Coach of the Year honors last year. “”We have a lot of players on our team this year, and on any given day, each and every one are capable of contributing.””

After this past weekend, in which the Wildcats split matches, losing to ITA No. 25 Alabama 4-0 and defeating ITA No. 22 Auburn 4-0, there is reason to believe that this season’s team can improve upon last year and earn recognition from future UA tennis players.

While there is only one ranked individual player on the Wildcats’ roster, sophomore Jason Zafiros (singles No. 113, ITA), the roster is consistent across the board. With leadership emanating from not only junior team captain Andres Carrasco, senior Pat Metham and senior Ravid Hazi, the group knows what its goals are.

“”Our main theme right now is to treat each match individually, and, if we put up our best effort and fight and attitude, then hopefully we’ll be able to accomplish our goals,”” Berkowitz said.

Among those goals, the Wildcats are looking to host the NCAA Tournament near the end of this season. They will have to be one of the top 16 teams in the country in order to earn the opportunity to exploit their home-court advantage.

They will need to take advantage of matches like the one this past weekend against a ranked opponent in Auburn and will have no shortage of such opponents. No. 1 USC, No. 4 UCLA, No. 9 Stanford, No. 21 Boise State, No. 26 Washington, No. 33 California, No. 44 San Diego State, No. 63 Denver, No. 65 Nebraska and No. 68 New Mexico State are all teams the Wildcats will face this season.

With five of those teams in the Pac-10, those matches in particular will be judged more harshly, as those teams are all ranked highly.

In the quest for a historic season, Arizona will have to ignore history when going through this difficult stretch of conference games. Since 1960, the UA is 0-74 against UCLA, 2-74 against USC, 3-60 against Stanford, 13-43 against California and 10-13 against Washington.

“”Being in the hardest conference — it’s very tough to say we’ll get a Pac-10 title or go deep,”” said Zafiros. “”Last year’s team was one of the better ones in history and … by having such a good year last year, I think we’re going to be hunted instead of going after that ranking.””

However, there is no reason to believe that the Wildcats can’t pull another upset in the Pac-10, as last year they beat then-No. 8 Stanford 4-2. With this team arguably being even stronger and looking to peak during the conference schedule, there is a better chance to earn some wins in the Pac-10.

“”Everyone is better in the Pac-10 this year with new players and returners. It’ll be an experienced conference, and it really is the toughest in the country,”” Berkowitz said. 

Only time will tell if this group of Wildcats can fulfill its own expectations, but, as their coach said, they’re just taking it a game at a time.

“”I love all the guys,”” Hazi said. “”All the years I’ve been here are great. This year, we’re all really comfortable with each other and a lot more confident. It’s a special team.””

— Nathan Comerford is a pre-business sophomore. He can be reached

at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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