Collegiate Tennis in Davis Cup '16

by Dominic Tinodi

The first Davis Cup Weekend of the year was completed just some days ago. While the media attention was mainly focused on the World Group matches with all the headlines (and scandals) on the ATP stars, the lower levels of Davis Cup came nothing short of drama and excitement. Exciting for us from Smarthlete because former, current and future college players had a say in the final outcome of the ties as well. In today's blog, we take a look at some of the achievements of the 42 (!) tennis players who represented their countries over the past weekend and for who college tennis played some sort of role to make the national team.

Photo credit: Dan Mastous

There are big titles professionals have a chance to win year after year. The Grand Slams, Master Series Tournaments and tournaments in front of the home crowd. But truth to be told it's an elite group of players who is in line for these titles. And then there are big match-ups, which do not translate into coming even close to winning a title and with it the prize money and ATP points whatsoever:

Davis Cup Matches

But do victories in these match-ups matter less to the players? Quite the opposite...

Top athletes of nations are nominated to represent their respective countries. What happens is that the personal success becomes a lot less important than winning as a team. If the #1 player loses, but the team wins anyway, that's as good as it gets. It is no surprise teams are more happy to organize the events on home turf, determining the playing conditions and preparing the ground for a special atmosphere from Friday to Sunday. And when the coin is tossed, the whole national tennis community is rooting for their players to win a total of 3 points. Except the big final in December each year, there is no title involved whatsoever; it could be a standard 1st round match-up or a playoff.

42 college tennis players in Davis Cup

Before we start, let's have a couple of quick facts on the Davis Cup. In 2016, 135 nations entered the competition - 4 short of the record 139 nations in 2001. The event is split into various divisions:

  • World Group*
  • World Group Play-offs
  • Group I* (Americas, Asia/Oceania, Europe/Africa)
  • Group II* (Americas, Asia/Oceania, Europe/Africa)
  • Group III (Americas, Asia/Oceania, Europe*, Africa)
  • Group IV (Asia/Oceania)

The groups and regions in bold* indicate that matches were played last week, whereas no Davis Cup matches were held in the remaining groups. (All rankings (ATP, ITF, ITA & UTR) are as of calendar week 9 in 2016.)
We will look into the World Group, Group I and Group II below.

College Tennis in World Group

There are other websites, which have covered the World Group ties in great detail, but 2 achievements are worth highlighting from a college perspective:

Australia 1 vs USA 3

John Isner and the Bryan Brothers were responsible for the 3 points on Team USA's end. A strong "college tennis effort", which secured them a 3-1 victory and a spot in the quarterfinals against Croatia.

Serbia 3 vs Kazakhstan 2

Exactly a year ago, Aleksandr Nedovyesov was the celebrated hero against Italy in the first round of the Davis Cup 2015: With the overall score tied at 2-2, he took Fabio Fognini down 7-5 in the 5th set.
This year, with a compelling 3-set win by Nedovyesov/Golubev against Djokovic/Zimonjic in doubles on Saturday (see highlight video below), he was opening up yet another chance of writing Davis Cup history. But despite the 2/1 lead going into Sunday, he had nothing left in the tank in the fifth rubber against Viktor Troicki.



The remaining rest of the article will be dedicated to the exciting ties below the World Group level:

College Tennis in Group I

Americas: Ecuador 5 vs Barbados 0

A remarkable result (as it really does not happen too often) was Emilio Gomez' triple bagel against Barbados's #2 Adam Hornby. Hornby (himself a Junior at Dalton State University) had nothing to offer against the graduate from University of Southern California. However, Hornby was not the only player who was sent home without winning a single game: Zimbabwe's Courtney Lock (Sophomore at Louisville) experienced the exact same drama against Finland's - actually retired - #1 Jarkko Nieminen. The last person to win 6-0 6-0 6-0 was Andy Murray almost 5 years ago...

Europe/Africa: Hungary 3 vs Israel 2

The biggest shout out in Group I goes to Peter Nagy's (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) 5-set upset against Israel's Dudi Sela:

Who would have predicted Hungary's #2 Nagy (ATP #612) would take down Israel's #1 Sela (ATP #89)? The Universal Tennis Ratings predicted it would be an interesting match. Before the Davis Cup meet, Nagy and Sela had UTRs of 14.48 and 15.36 - hence, within one (1.0) point of each other. UTR defines such a match as "competitive" and the world's #612 win against the much better-ranked Dudi Sela was not so surprising anymore according to the UTR. UTR got your attention? Check out how it works and why the guys from UTR wouldn't use the term "Upset" for such an underdog's win here. A crucial win by Nagy, bringing Hungary on track for their first round win against Israel.

College Tennis in Group II

Americas: Mexico 3 vs Guatemala 2

Mexico with two college players in their line-up and Guatemala with one made this already intense meeting an interesting one for the college world as well:

  • Hans Hach (MEX) - Abilene Christian University
  • Miguel-Angel Reyes Varela (MEX) - University of Texas
  • Wilfredo Gonzalez (GUA) - University of Miami

Hach and Reyes Varela with one win each helped close the tie already on Saturday. But things could have gone the other way, had former Abilene Christian player Hans Hach not taken the second match on Friday, coming from 1-2 sets down.

Americas: Venezuela 0 vs Paraguay 5

Paraguay qualified for Group II - Americas after their 4 straight victories over their opponents in last year's Group III event.

A significant contributor to last year's success was a Now-Freshman from Middle Tennessee State University: Ayed Zatar Cordero.

With 5 wins in his first Davis Cup appearance in 2015, Paraguay's team captain had strong reason to get him leave his college dorm and join the team travel to the away-game in Venezuelas. Things didn't go as well as last year, with Zatar losing both singles and doubles. But he did deliver a good fight against ATP #613 Luis David Martinez, eventually falling 5-7 6-3 6-7 4-6. While Junior Francisco Yim Kim from Troy lost in straight sets, former Baylor athlete Roberto Maytin contributed to the 5-0 victory with his win in doubles ... against Zatar.

Back to college tennis in the Conference USA for Ayed, but that won't be his last appearance on the national team.

Asia/Oceania: El Salvador 3 vs Puerto Rico 2

El Salvador won the match 3-2, but things were decided after the fourth match already. Highlight from a collegiate tennis perspective were the two matches between Tulsa alumni Marcelo Arevalo and to-be Bulldog at University of Georgia come September this year: Alex Diaz. The name Diaz sounds familiar? Yes indeed - he is the son of head coach Manny Diaz:

With Diaz having won his first two Davis Cup matches last year against Peru, Arevalo certainly gave him yet another taste of college tennis with a straight 6-2 6-2 6-0 defeat in singles and another four-setter in doubles the day after. But Diaz should be on the radar of Puerto Rico's Davis Cup captain for the play-offs in July as well as the years to come ...

Europe/Africa: South Africa 5 vs. Luxembourg 0

Even without Kevin Anderson, the team still smelled a lot like college tennis:

  • Tucker Vorster - University of Mississippi
  • Ruan Roelofse - University of Illinois
  • Dean O'Brien - Georgia Tech University

Without Luxembourg's clear #1 Gilles Muller, the South Africans cruised past the Europeans with a straight 5-0 victory. Luxembourg's Alex Knaff (ITF High #400) made his second appearance on the team, falling short against Tucker with 1-6 4-6 4-6. He's set to start at the Florida State University this fall:

"I'm really excited to join the FSU team next year (...) There is a great team spirit within the team and I believe that FSU can help me reach my goals as a tennis player and as a student."
(Alex Knaff - Florida State University)

Europe/Africa: Bosnia Herzegovina 3 vs Tunisia 1

Tunisia travelled to Bosnia Herzegovina with two college players on board. One of them graduated from Drake in 2013, the other one is competing alongside his team mates at Wake Forest University as we speak:

  • Anis Ghorbel - Drake University
  • Skander Mansouri - Wake Forest University

With Ghorbel losing the first match on Friday, sophomore Mansouri (ITA #25) made his second appearance on the national team alongside world number #107 Malek Jaziri. And they almost went all the way, but eventually fell short in 5 sets, after a 2-1 set lead.

Europe/Africa: Turkey 3 vs Bulgaria 2

Bulgaria lost 2-3 against neighboring country Turkey, but former college player Vasko Mladenov helped get his team make it to Sunday. Alongside his doubles partner, the alumnus from St. John's University pulled off a dramatic 7-6 6-7 6-7 7-6 6-4 win to keep Bulgaria alive.

Europe/Africa: Latvia 3 vs Monaco 2

Latvia's #1 Mikelis Libietis graduated from the University of Tennessee last year. With his five set win over former ATP #204 Benjamin Balleret and help securing the doubles point, he can call himself a true match-winner last weekend.

Europe/Africa: Georgia 0 vs Denmark 5

Danish tennis keeps drawing on players with a link to college tennis.
After Mikael Torpegaard (Ohio State) in the fall against Rafael Nadal at home, it was now Benjamin Hannestad's turn in the fourth match - and he did win his first Davis Cup match. Hannestad is set to join the tennis program at University of South Florida this fall.

Team member Christian Sigsgaard (born 1997, ITF High #147) won against the Georgian #1 Basilashvili (ATP#118)! Though he has not committed to any school yet, he stated back in January that he was in talks with coaches and that he plans on joining a tennis program this fall...

While this was certainly a more than surprising victory, it also is an upset according to the two players' UTR: Basilashvili had a UTR of 15.01, compared to Sigsgaard's 13.42!

Asia/Oceania: Philippines 5 vs Kuwait 0

3 out of 4 team members for the Philippines played at college. Treat Huey is the most famous of them, as he's had quite an impact on the doubles tour (currently ATP #30) over the last years.

  • Treat Huey - University of Virginia
  • Ruben Gonzalez - University of Illinois
  • Francis Alcantara - Pepperdine University

To make things simple, the Philippines won 5-0 including a 5-setter by Gonzalez - former college doubles partner of Kevin Anderson (RSA) - and it must have felt just like in the college days for 75% of the team...

"(...) I'm excited as a team to go to the next round. Our Davis Cup team is on the rise."
(Treat Huey - spin.ph)

Remaining groups and players

We haven't covered all of the college players today, but the list goes on and offers some interesting insights. We recommend you take a look at this article on College Tennis Today, including an overview of all the guys.

Regardless if you win or lose, go home defeated or undefeated, with a triple bagel in the luggage or a five-setter, one thing unites all of the players we have written about:

The honor of representing your nation's flag, hearing the anthem, wearing the colors and leaving it all out there. There's a tiny number of people in this world who get to experience this feeling. For some of them college tennis may have made the difference to get to that point, whereas others will certainly profit from the competition in the US and help them grow their game.

Doubles specialist Dominic Inglot didn't get to play for his home country last weekend. But his words resemble the link between collegiate tennis and the Davis Cup perfectly:

"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."

What's your level of tennis? Would you have a realistic shot of making it on the national team of your country at some point? Then it might be time to consider taking the college route and doing what other fellow countrymen have done before. Get an education, invest in your game and live the college dream. Get in touch with us from Smarthlete (contact@smarthlete.com) and let's see how our recruiting experts an help get you into college. Or you are ready to create a free recruiting profile already? Then let's get started by clicking here!

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