COLUMN: Men's tennis proves to be on the rise
For many an avid tennis fan, there’s no better venue than the college game.
That game was brought to its highest level this weekend at the 2013 Intercollegiate Tennis Association's National Men’s Team Indoor Championship in Seattle.
The Sooners came home with a 2-1 record in the prestigious tourney thanks to the clutch play of sophomore Nick Papac.
Papac captured the deciding team point with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 victory over sophomore Nikhil Jayashankar of California, as OU beat the Golden Bears, 4-3.
What makes this win more monumental is Papac did not play in the weekend’s previous two matches.
The Sooners also conquered Cal’s Pac 12 conference brother and tourney host, Washington. OU’s lone loss came at the hands of No. 9 Duke, as OU played each of its matches late into the night all three evenings.
OU was the sole Big 12 representative in this year’s event with the SEC and Pac 12 providing the lion’s share of qualifiers.
In fact, it was Virginia from the ACC defeating the Pac 12’s USC in Monday’s championship final.
It is this competition among the regional diversity of storied tennis programs which makes the Sooners proud to be here. And it is quite an accomplishment to qualify for the field of 16.
OU joined the other 15 by beating Harvard and Memphis in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association kickoff tournament last month.
With five years experience as a player or coach in this event, who better to lead the Sooners into the battle in Seattle than OU men’s coach John Roddick.
“I played in this tourney all four years at Georgia,” he said. “We made it to the semi-finals twice and the finals twice, including being one point away from winning the championship in 1997.”
His experience with the event’s co-host and college tennis’ governing body, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, got deeper as he recently joined the association’s board of directors.
“We are glad to be here this year”, said Roddick, adding that since being named OU’s coach in June 2009, he’s been disappointed his team hadn’t made the tournament already.
“It can be a little uncomfortable versus the SEC, Pac 12, ACC”, he said, citing Georgia’s strength to overcome the loss of their top player Friday and still win the match.
“Big teams expect to win”, he said. “Lobbing can be tough indoors, unique things happen indoors.
“It is an opportunity that makes us better in the long run.”
OU last appeared in this event, also held in Seattle, in 1999.
The Sooners were led then by longtime men’s coach Paul Lockwood, a former OU player and Big 8 champion.
It was the first time the Sooners had made the tourney field since 1975, when Lockwood and OU played in the event held in Wisconsin.
So as the nation’s top teams descended on Seattle, Roddick shared his objective for getting OU here — and beyond.
In addition to playing strong Big 12 rivals like Baylor, Texas, and TCU, Roddick wants to get used to playing these other conferences which boast the nation’s best college tennis.
Ultimately, it boils down to continually competing with the top programs.
This helps OU tennis as it takes its next step toward national prominence.
Alluding to his desire for this, Roddick puts it quite succinctly.
“We want to buy space here, not rent it.”
Rob Colbert is an OU journalism alumus and former tennis beat reporter for The Daily.