College Tennis Players - Now Davis Cup Heroes

by Dominic Tinodi

The Davis Cup ties last weekend were as usual characterized by excitement and drama, with epic wins and painful losses. Kazakhastan's 3-2 win over Italy is one of the most remarkable ones. Even more so as the third point was pulled off by a former college player who was ITA National Player of the Year and #1 in the nation during his time at Oklahoma State University: Aleksandr Nedovyesov. In this edition of Friday Scholarship Guide, we will take a look at some of the 36 (!) tennis players with a background in college tennis, who represented their countries past weekend.

Photo credit: Dan Mastous

What's the absolute greatest in sports anyone can accomplish?

In team sports it's all about winning major titles together as a team: the Stanley Cup (hockey), the Super Bowl (football), or the Champions League (soccer) for example. In individual sports, it's about becoming #1 in the world (golf), setting world records (swimming & track/field) or winning major titles (Grand Slams in tennis).

Once the top athletes of a nation are called to represent their countries, a whole different story evolves. All of a sudden, victories are not achieved for themselves or the club team, athletes normally compete with every week: it's the collaboration with fellow countrymen instead. Face to face with other nations in special global events, such as World Cups or Olympic Games, an interesting dimension enters the definition of accomplishing something big:

"To play for my country, the deciding match - the fifth rubber (...), being down 2-1 and winning it in five - it's incredible." (Nedovyesov)

Tennis is one of those sports, where athletes generally travel around the world battling hard to win for themselves or together with their doubles partner. But from time to time the Davis Cup is calling, so are the team captains, and the nations' representatives gather to compete for 3 days in order to find out who is stronger. So happened last weekend (March 6-8) in 33 ties across the world.

33 matches

33 ties were played between 66 nations.

While most of the media attention was naturally directed towards the First Round of the World Group, there was plenty of action in lower Groups as well:

  • Group I - Americas, Asia/Oceania, Europe/Africa
  • Group II - Americas, Asia/Oceania, Europe/Africa

36 tennis players with a past in college

Besides the usual suspects who are members of the top group of the ATP ranking (take a look at our previous articles, providing information on college athletes who competed in the Australian Open 2015: Singles & Doubles), there's a large number of other former college players, who have either no ranking in the ATP or who find themselves far outside of the top 100.

36 players with U.S. college experience equals 14% of all nominated team members for past weekend's matches. If we exclude the World Group with the likes of Isner (USA), Bryans (USA), Becker (GER), and Inglot (GBR), there are still 29 (!) participants in the Davis Cup Group I and II.

Now if we agree on the fact that one of the biggest accomplishments you can have as an athlete is to play for your home country, it's exactly this group of 29, some of which are entirely unknown to the majority of the interested tennis audience, who did it. They might never have (had) their breakthrough on the professional level, but they still enjoy something the very large part of all (professional) tennis players never will:

The honor of proudly wearing their national colors & representing their country as one of four players on home soil or away.

Group I & II

Well-known Top 100 players

The 7 players below are the ones who are or were ranked within the Top 100 of the ATP. All of them have done so in doubles only, except Wayne Black who celebrated his comeback against Bosnia Herzegovina at age 41, since his last Davis Cup appearance ten years ago in 2005.

  • Robert Farah (COL)
  • Michael Venus (NZL)
  • Marcin Matkowski (POL)
  • Robert Lindstedt (SWE)
  • Johan Brunström (SWE)
  • Treat Huey (PHI)
  • Wayne Black (ZIM)

Remaining players

The other (College) Davis Cup participants are those...

  • ...who have come close to the Top 100 in doubles, such as Roberto Maytin (VEN) from Baylor University or Marcelo Arevalo (ESA) from Tulsa University.
  • ...who have not been close to any such success, such as Francis Casey Alcantara (PHI) from Pepperdine University or Karim Alayli (LEB) from Ole Miss.

But regardless their success on the tour, their actual strength, or their ambitions to turn pro, they have an experience in common, which sets them apart from many other excellent players on the tour, who are "unlucky" to be born in a nation with a great depth of players. A Spanish, French, or American player ranked #900 would never stand a chance of making the Davis Cup team. But Mark Fynn's career high of #890 gets him into the lineup of the Zimbabwe national team, after having gained experience at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

The experience they gain is of unique kind and worth reflecting on...

  • Mohammed Abid Ali Khan Akbar

Mohammed Abid Ali Khan Akbar, who graduated from the University of Idaho in 2013 made his debut on Sunday against the #1 from Kuwait and was able to get into a five set-fight. He could have ended the tie on behalf of his team, but lost the deciding set 2-6. Fortunately, his team mate Aqeel Khan then stepped in instead. Despite Akbar's loss, Khan emphasizes:

"Abid took the match to the fifth set, which was incredible. He missed some important points because he lacked experience, but he proved himself against an experienced player like Ghareeb."

  • Ruan Roelofse

Ruan Roelofse (University of Illinois) was on his way to becoming the Davis Cup hero of the weekend in South Africa's tie against Turkey away. Everything was on track after his doubles win on Saturday together with Klaasen who reflects on the match:

"We got out the gates good and won the first two sets pretty quickly and all was going according to plan. But Davis Cup is a different animal. The crowd got into the match, we got loose, the Turks lifted their game and all of a sudden it was a real battle."

Roelofse went into his singles match on Sunday with an overall 2-2 score line and almost managed to beat his opponent, despite "a partisan, rowdy Turkish crowd and suspect line calls and chair umpire". He lost the fifth set 4-6 and is left with the (thankless) experience of having fought for his country until the very last point.

  • José Hernández

Alongside ATP #57 Victor Estrella Burgos, #270 José Hernández (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), closed out a tight 3/2 win for Dominican Republic over Barbados in the latter's first time ever appearance in Group I of the Davis Cup. Hernández lost his singles match on Friday, as well as the doubles on Saturday, but managed to deliver a crucial 4-set victory in the final rubber.

Easy to imagine there was quite some emotion involved towards the end of the ties above. Without doubt a great experience for the three individuals, but even greater to scrape the win for the whole country.

Closing remarks

Wrapping up this edition on the Davis Cup, we simply love the statement made by one of Great Britain's doubles players, Dominic Inglot, linking U.S. college tennis and the Davis Cup wonderfully:

"Playing an away Davis Cup tie is nothing compared to playing a dual match against Georgia or Illinois away where the fans are literally a foot from you and calling you every name under the sun." (Also covered in our article: "Top 4 reasons college tennis is the best choice for aspiring professionals")

Where are you from? Perhaps a smaller nation, where playing for the Davis Cup team could be a realistic option at some point? We are pretty certain seeking a scholarship and getting the experience at college might take you closer to this unique experience... Join us at Smarthlete, which will enable you to set-up a complete profile & connect with college coaches! Got any questions related to college tennis? Feel free to get in touch with us! See you next Friday!

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