Tennis Atlantic’s @ITATennis Kickoff Weekend All-Star Line-Up
Jeff McMillan, Tennis Atlantic
This past weekend the dual college tennis season finally got into full gear after the long off-season with the ITA kickoff weekend. Fifteen schools hosted regionals of four teams, with each team guaranteed two matches. The fifteen regional winners will join host Illinois in Chicago for the national indoor event in February.
There were many close matches, upsets and near upsets and showed that this college tennis season will be one to follow closely with the plethora of talent spread across the country.
After all the matches, Tennis Atlantic has chosen our All-Star Line-Up based on the players’ performance to help their team qualify for the national event in Chicago.
ITA Kickoff Weekend All-Star Line-Up:
1. Soren Hess-Olesen, Texas
Heading the top spot in the all-star line-up is senior Soren Hess-Olesen from the Texas Longhorns. Hess-Olesen entered the weekend as one of the nations top players coming in at #13 in the ITA rankings and the Aarhus, Denmark native backed up his ranking in impressive fashion. Texas was heavily favored to win their region in Austin, but was tested a bit more than expected with stern challenges coming from Minnesota and Florida State. Hess-Olesen was the solid rock that kept the team from succumbing to the oncoming challengers. He took care of the 17th ranked player in the nation, Leandro Toledo of Minnesota in routine 6-1 7-5 fashion, which set the tone for the 4-1 win over Minnesota. On Sunday he absorbed everything that talented Zimbabwean Ben Lock threw at him and breezed past the FSU #1 6-2 6-3 which was a key point in a tight 4-3 win.
2. Nicolas Alvarez, Duke
At the #2 spot in the all-star lineup is the Duke freshman from Lima, Peru. Alvarez announced his presence on the college tennis scene in the fall with several big wins, as he quickly became one of the top players in the nation already as a freshman. He entered the kickoff weekend ranked #18 in the nation and he would face stout competition at the #2 slot in the Durham region. He began the weekend with a huge 7-6(1) 6-3 win over #12 Romain Bogaerts of Wake Forest that became a huge point in an important early season win for Duke over upstart ACC rival Wake Forest. Wake is thought to have one of the best top 2 combos in the country with Noah Rubin and Romain Bogaerts, but Alvarez disrupted that with his huge win over Bogaerts. Alvarez followed up the impressive win vs Wake with another impressive win over the talented freshman from Memphis Andrew Watson 6-4 6-4 who is ranked #23 in the country to lead Duke to Chicago.
3. Matt Barry, Penn State
The biggest surprise of the kick-off weekend was Penn State’s qualification for the final 16. The underdogs from the Big Ten upset host Kentucky before knocking off favored USF to qualify for Chicago despite only being ranked #26 heading into the weekend. A big part of Penn State’s qualification was the play of junior Matt Barry from Lido Beach, NY. Barry actually played at the #4 slot in the first match vs. host Kentucky. Barry took out crafty Kevin Lai 6-4 6-4 in a match that many would consider a surprise result. His win was the most solid keg in Penn State’s sweep of the 3-6 positions that gave the Nittany Lions the huge win over Kentucky. On Sunday Barry backed up his great win over Lai with a huge comeback win at the #3 position vs USF. Barry dropped the first set vs Oliver Pramming 5-7 which put Penn State in a perilous position. Barry started a rally for his team on court 3 by taking the 2nd set 6-4 and eventually closing the rally by winning the 3rd set 6-2 and sending Penn State tennis to an unprecedented level.
4. Ashok Narayana, Columbia
Representing the Ivy League in Chicago will be Columbia who had a close win over Tennessee and then an epic win over host Notre Dame. The standout for Columbia in these two wins was Houston, TX senior Ashok Narayana. Narayana took care of Luis Valero of Tennessee in a 7-5 6-2 solid win that was a key point in the Lions 4-3 win over the Vols. On Sunday Columbia and Notre Dame would battle in what is already an early season candidate for match of the season. Each of the 6 singles courts went to a 3rd set with the result entirely in the air. Narayana’s turnaround proved to be the key in the match. After dropping the first set 1-6 to Eric Schurrenberger, Narayana would rally. In the end Narayana out dueled the Notre Dame junior, who had just won the decisive 3rd set tiebreaker in the previous match that lead Notre Dame past Oklahoma State and set up the matchup with Columbia. 1-6 7-5 6-4 Narayana def Schurrenberger and Columbia will be in Chicago amongst the best teams in the nation.
5. Jose Antonio Salazar, Oklahoma
Oklahoma is considered to be one of the top favorites to win the national title this season and if they wish to achieve this goal the key is how some of the new pieces fit into the team. Jose Salazar is one of those new players. The Canary Islands native fit right into the Sooner lineup this weekend and had two solid wins. He defeated James Hignett of New Mexico 7-5 6-1 in the first round to give the Sooners a no drama win over the heavy underdogs. On Sunday though it was a different story as the Northwestern Wildcats gave Oklahoma everything they wanted. Salazar was blitzed in the first set 2-6 by Alp Horoz from Turkey and it was looking like Oklahoma may be headed for an unexpected exit from the kick-off weekend. But Salazar rallied and dominated the next two sets 6-2 6-0 which proved to be instrumental in shifting the momentum of the match and led the Sooners to overcoming the stiff challenge from the Wildcats in a 4-1 win.
6. Ricardo Jorge, Ole Miss
Rounding out the kickoff weekend all-star is Ole Miss sophomore Ricardo Jorge. The Tavira, Portugal native came through with two 3 set wins that lifted his Ole Miss Rebels to Chicago after two very close wins over Florida and South Carolina. Ole Miss looked dead to rights vs Florida after going down 3-0 in Gainseville as did Jorge who had lost the first set to Oliver Landert 3-6. But Jorge kept the hopes alive for Ole Miss after a tense 2nd set tiebreak in which he emerged the victor 7-6(5) he rode his momentum into the 3rd set and took the match with a 6-4 3rd set win as Ole Miss beat Florida 4-3. Jorge provided his team with another 3 set win on Sunday when he defeated Thomas Mayronne of South Carolina 6-1 3-6 6-2. Jorge’s two huge wins at #6 over the weekend was a big boost for Ole Miss as they became one of the only two SEC teams to qualify for Chicago.
Max Schnur, Columbia
Dragos Ignat, Columbia
Guillermo Nunez, TCU
Gustav Hansson, Ole Miss
Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, Virginia