GopThe University of Minnesota men's tennis team entered the year with high expectations, but following its fall season, anticipation for the upcoming dual meet season has grown even more. The Golden Gophers had many highlights in the past three months and will next appear on the court in their season-opening dual meet vs. Notre Dame at 98th Street Racquet Club in Bloomington, Minn.
Without question, the top moment thus far has been the performance of junior Harsh Mankad. The two-time All-Big Ten performer finished his fall schedule in impressive fashion by winning the ITA Intercollegiate Indoor Championships. He became the first Golden Gopher to ever win the event and the first Big Ten player in the past 11 years. Ranked 22nd in the nation entering the season, he will undoubtedly climb into the top 10 in the nation when rankings are released in December.
In addition to winning the Indoor Championship, Mankad had a very busy fall. In early October, he took a break from the collegiate ranks and represented India in its Davis Cup pre-qualifying match vs. the United States in Winston-Salem, N.C. Mankad appeared in the first match of the weekend and faced the world's 15th-ranked player, Andy Roddick. In front of a national television audience on ESPN2. Mankad not only made a name for himself with his play, but also brought a lot of exposure to the Golden Gopher tennis program. Mankad battled to the end and was defeated by scores of 3-6, 4-6, 1-6.
Playing well in the Davis Cup, Mankad took his momentum with him to the Regional Championships in East Lansing, Mich. He won four straight matches, including wins over No. 43 Henry Beam of Michigan and No. 76 Javier Taborga of Notre Dame, and reached the semifinals. He was eventually ousted by the eventual champion, Amer Delic of Illinois.
Mankad finished the fall season with a 12-1 record and more impressively, an 8-1 record vs. ranked players. He defeated four players ranked ahead of him, including a three-set victory over No. 8 Andrew Park of USC.
While Mankad received the headlines, the performance of the rest of the team showed off the depth of this year's squad. Returning to the court for the first time since last October, Thomas Haug may have been rusty early on, but by November, he served notice that he was well on his way to regaining the form of a year ago.
Haug played in the most matches for the Golden Gophers this fall and compiled a 13-5 record. In just his second event of the season, Haug advanced to the semifinals of the Region IV Championships in October. The defending champion of the event, Haug won four straight matches before losing to Wisconsin's Danny Westerman. Just three weeks later, he again reached the semifinals, this time at the Big Ten Singles Championships. He cruised through with four straight-set victories, before falling to Jamal Parker of Illinois.
With Mankad and Haug leading the way, the question remains how the rest of the lineup will shape up for the dual meet season. There are plenty of candidates for head coach David Geatz to choose from.
Sophomore Aleksey Zharinov could be the biggest surprise in the Big Ten this season. After joining the Golden Gophers last January and having a full offseason to prepare for his sophomore campaign, the early results indicate an outstanding season ahead. Zharinov finished 13-5 in the fall, including a 2-2 record against ranked opponents. The highlight for the Novosibirsk, Russia, native was his run at the All-American Tournament. He won four straight matches in pre-qualifying before falling in the final round. He was selected to advance to the qualifying round through a random draw. He then went on to win two matches and advance to the main draw. He also had a good run at the Big Ten Singles Championships as he reached the quarterfinals.
Another underclassman turned heads as well. Freshman Avery Ticer had a strong debut with an 11-5 record. He also had an excellent run at the Big Ten Singles Championships. Along with Thomas Haug, Ticer advanced to the semifinals of the tournament with four straight victories along the way.
Chris Wettengel had an injury-plagued freshman season, but grew stronger towards the end of the fall season. The sophomore from Bentonville, Ark., finished 8-5 this past fall, and won six of his last seven matches.
Eric Robertson is in his third season with the Maroon and Gold and just like every member of the Golden Gopher team, finished the fall with a record .500 or better. He began the season with a 3-0 record at the Wine Country Invitational in late September.
A pair of newcomers also fared well. A transfer from the University of Kentucky, Reven Stephens had an 8-3 record, while fellow transfer, Manuel Lievano, finished 4-4.
With two months to go before returning to the court, the Golden Gophers will use the time to build on the successes of the fall season and prepare for a challenging dual meet schedule ahead. Minnesota will join Illinois and Ohio State as the primary contenders in the Big Ten Tournament in 2002. The Golden Gophers will travel to Columbus for a match with the defending Big Ten Champion Buckeyes on March 3. Minnesota will host Big Ten power Illinois on April 13.
It all begins January 25th at the 98th Street Racquet Club as Minnesota hosts Notre Dame, and two days later, hosts William & Mary.
It's shaping up to be a special season.