The weekend of April 7-9, the top team in NCAA Division I men’s tennis, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, enjoyed a well-deserved break after collecting 12 straight wins. Immersed in the hunt to win the super competitive Atlantic Coast Conference, a 12-day halt seems like a double-edged sword, doesn’t it?
When he elaborated the Spring 2017 schedule, head coach Tony Bresky knew what he was doing, though. At Wake Forest, the alma mater of legendary athletes such as Arnold Palmer, Tim Duncan or Chris Paul, Bresky coaches two of the premier international players in college tennis: Petros Chrysochos (Cyprus) and Skander Mansouri (Tunisia). The likelihood both of them would be called up to play Davis Cup on the aforementioned weekend was quite high.
Indeed, the teammates at WFU flew out from Winston-Salem to Nicosia to take part in the tie between their respective countries. Pairing up with world number 60 Malek Jaziri, Mansouri defeated Chrysochos and former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis by a 7-5 3-6 5-7 6-4 7-5 score.
On April 14, neither player was able to obtain a singles victory in their first dual match since returning, probably affected by the jet lag. Nevertheless, Wake Forest was able to beat Florida State 5-2.
Zimbabwe native Benjamin Lock enjoyed, precisely, four superlative seasons in Tallahassee (2012/16) as a FSU Seminole before turning pro. His 180 combined wins rank as third most in Florida State history. No big deal, right? Well, his Davis Cup stats (2010/16) are arguably even more impressive, having won 21 of 28 matches for a robust 75 win percentage. In 2016, alongside his younger brother Courtney John Lock, who received a tennis scholarship at UNLV, rallied past the Georgian team featuring Nikoloz Basilashvili (currently 59 ATP) and Nodar Itonishvili in five sets.
The current coach of the University of Idaho, Abid Akbar, is also adept at representing Pakistan. The former Vandals standout between 2009 and 2013 did not make his Davis Cup debut until 2015, when he prevailed over David Susanto from Indonesia by a score of 6-0 7-6 0-6 6-2.
There are also precedents of NCAA stars squaring off against world class players. Current ITA #1 Mikael Torpegaard played against some guy called Rafael Nadal in 2015 in the opening rubber of the Denmark vs Spain tie. The Ohio State University product managed to win nine games versus the 14-time Grand Slam champion.
In 2012, South African sophomore Nik Scholtz was assigned with the tall order of ousting Canadian giant Milos Raonic during the World Cup playoff. The Wimbledon 2016 finalist eventually survived, albeit not without being pushed, winning 7-5 6-4 7-5. In 2015, Scholtz became the first player in Ole Miss history to garner All-American honors in all four years of eligibility as a Rebel.
These are just a few examples of tennis players who completed a collegiate career in the US while still representing their country when called upon. Off the top of my head, I’m leaving out names like Emilio Gomez (Ecuador), Roberto Quiroz (Ecuador), Mikelis Libietis (Latvia) or Slim Hamza (Tunisia).
What seems clear is that if a college tennis coach intends to recruit a top player from a country with modest tennis tradition, she or he must be aware of the Davis Cup dates before finalizing the schedule for the upcoming season.
Text: Pablo Mosquera