Following up on the Friday Scholarship Guide article last week, it's time for the first Grand Slam tournament of the year: The Australian Open. The qualifying events are in its final rounds and 14 college tennis players had a high enough ATP ranking for a spot in the draw. See below who's been playing, what college they play(ed) for and who still has a chance of making it to the main draw.
Last week, we provided you with our Top 4 Reasons College Tennis is the Best Choice for Aspiring Professionals. We got a great deal of positive feedback from you guys out there, which we're extremely grateful for. And equally important, it confirms that collegiate tennis really matters. And it does so even more, once we look at the numbers of this year's men's qualifying event for the Australian Open 2015: As many as 14 (former) college players gave it a try.
See the list of the 14 athletes below, making up 11% of this year's qualifying draw. The University of Virginia and University of Tennessee stand out, representing 5 of these 14 players.
Bradley Klahn (USA) played for Stanford University
Jarmere Jenkins (USA) played for University of Virginia
Michael Russell (USA) played for University of Miami
Andrew Harris (AUS) plays for University of Oklahoma
Tim Puetz (GER) played for Auburn University
Chase Buchanan (USA) played for Ohio State
Aleksandr Nedovyesov (KAZ) played for Oklahoma State
John-Patrick Smith (AUS) played for University of Tennessee
James McGee (IRL) played for North Carolina State
Austin Krajicek (USA) played for Texas A&M
Somdev Devvarman (IND) played for University of Virginia
Rajeev Ram (USA) played for University of Illinois
Rhyne Williams (USA) played for University of Tennessee
Tennys Sandgren (USA) played for University of Tennessee
You may be wondering why the word "former" is placed in parentheses. For the same reason we can't call the entire group of players "professionals", as Andrew Harris is enrolled and still competes for the University of Oklahoma. More about this very interesting fact a little later.
The 14 players above belong to the large number of pros, who are currently not in the much more lucrative group of top 100 ATP players. But they are only a stone's throw away and some of them have already been ranked within the best 100. What characterizes many of the guys in the same range of the rankings is that they generally have what it takes to move further up the rankings. And the number of former college players shows that you are well-prepared for the tour if you like to pursue your dream of turning pro at some point. Signing with some of the best tennis programs in the country is by all means no guarantee to make it, but it's a pretty good indicator that this way can't be that wrong.
But let us give you another very good indicator and let's get back to 20-year old Andrew Harris. As mentioned, Andrew is still enrolled at college. His name might even sound familiar to some tennis insiders. He won in fact the junior grand slam doubles titles in Wimbledon and Roland Garros together with fellow Aussie Nick Kyrgios. Having had that sort of success, many young players would certainly go on and decide that the only way forward is in fact turning pro right away. But, it's also no secret that many top ITF-U18 stars disappeared and never managed to breakthrough. Andrew in turn won the first round against former top 100 man, Jesse Huta Galung (NED) and then lost in a tight second round against Andreas Beck (GER). In an interview, he said "so as soon as I'm done here I'm jumping on the next plane to Oklahoma and into the season."
He made an active choice for college and doesn't seem to regret it at all: "I'm happy to be over there in my own little world and just focusing on my own game."
Being Friday today, the final third round of the qualifying will be played on the weekend before the main draw starts off on Monday.
Of the 14 players, 10 reached the second round. Jarmere Jenkins, Michael Russell, Tim Puetz, and Chase Buchanan all advanced to the third round. With two of them facing each other in the third round, a maximum of 3 players can make it to the main draw of the first Grand Slam of the year. And by doing so, joining the other 5 players with a college history:
Kevin Anderson (RSA) played for University of Illinois
John Isner (USA) played for University of Georgia
Steve Johnson (USA) played for USC
Benjamin Becker (GER) played for Baylor University
Blaz Rola (SLO) played for Ohio State University
It's worth highlighting one player in particular: James McGee (IRL). He lost in the second round, but certainly has a story to tell worth reading. Having suffered from a long-lasting injury he was left with one option to continue pursue his tennis career: a scholarship at North Carolina State University. Grateful about receiving this single opportunity, he admits: "I knew it wasn't the very best place for my tennis development." But he grabbed it and made a lot more out of it than many people thought he was going to: A career high of #188 on the ATP tour at age 27 and representing his native country, Ireland, in the Davis Cup.
Looking at the stories behind the professionals, we read about or watch on TV, is exciting and it will reveal many different ways to become a professional. We hope today's facts will make you think about collegiate tennis and consider it an attractive and promising choice. Not only for the very best juniors, but all the way down to players, who could go to NCAA DII, DIII, NAIA, or NJCAA schools. Sign up to Smarthlete, your recruiting network, today and please feel free to get in touch with us in case you have any further questions. If you liked this article and found it interesting, we'd be happy and grateful if you could share it with your friends, tennis fellows, and colleagues.