Men’s tennis embraces culture change

Tufts Men's Tennis player Ethan Chen prepares a serve during an outdoor practice on March 8. (Max Lalanne/The Tufts Daily)

Between resurfaced courts in Gantcher Center and coach Karl Gregor’s first recruiting class consisting of five new first-years, men’s tennis anticipates an exciting and successful fall 2016 season. The fall is traditionally when men’s tennis sets the stage for their spring season by playing in tournaments.

Tufts experienced great success last season; the team beat Amherst for the first time since the 2003-2004 season and defeated eventual national champion Bowdoin just weeks before its coronation. The Jumbos entered the NESCAC tournament as the fifth seed and ranked within the top 15 teams nationally. Despite improving substantially last season, the team believes its success was only the beginning.

After graduating five seniors including three captains — leaving three spots in the starting rotation vacant — Tufts will use the fall to round new contributors into form. Senior tri-captain Ben Battle played singles and doubles for the Jumbos last year and plans to return in the spring after fully recovering from an ACL injury. 

“The goal for the year is for everybody to improve their tennis, no matter how good you are, from the top of our lineup to the bottom. The way our team will progress further is everyone having the common goal to try and get better,” Battle said.

Battle also pointed out that a quirk of college tennis, especially among NESCAC schools, is the need for indoor courts. While outdoor courts are relatively standardized, every indoor court plays slightly differently. Battle made note of a certain home-court advantage teams have when playing on their own surfaces.

“I think [the new Gantcher courts] will be a great training tool for us,” Battle said. “The previous courts were really fast and the points were much shorter on those old courts. These new ones are a little slower, it makes the rallies longer, they’re great training conditions. It will magnify what we can do in the offseason to prepare for the spring.”

The new indoor courts may be an excellent training aid, but Tufts does not play at home during the fall. In fact, their first home game is not until April 1 against Amherst.

“The slower courts [in Gantcher] help us work on more realistic timing with the ball coming at you,” sophomore singles player Ethan Chen said.

Exactly how the new surface in Gantcher plays and its impact on the team’s performance this fall and into the spring will be worth keeping an eye on with the season around the corner.

Chen also said that this year’s tri-captains, seniors Austin Bendetson, Kevin Kelly and Battle, have fully embraced the culture shift that has taken place over the last few seasons. Battle explained that even the captains’ practices that have taken place prior to the start of the season have been more intense than in the past, with the captains taking the work very seriously.

“We want to create a culture where [everyone on] the team can hold each other accountable,” Battle said.

Both Chen and Battle were of one mind when it came to what the team expects to accomplish this year.

“We’re all excited to improve on last season, we know what it’s like to be competitive, we know what it’s like to be a top team,” Chen said. “[Gregor] has brought a new focus to the team, a new sense of purpose.”

The team traveled to its first invitational at Middlebury this past weekend. The first day of the competition saw the Jumbos put up strong performances. Chen and first-years Zach Schaff and William Gold each won two singles matches on Saturday.

Tufts went into the weekend with roster spots in flex and a desire to prove that it belongs with the best competition. With the players and coaches all dedicated to constant improvement, intrasquad play in the fall should prove as competitive as the race for the NCAAs in the spring.