Buergis moves to head of tennis class

Aaron Blake

Minnesota women’s tennis coach Tyler Thomson makes an ironic comparison when asked what he compares Angela Buergis’s tennis style to.

“I guess I would relate it to somebody who plays chess,” Thomson said. “I don’t play chess, but in the game you always need to be a couple moves ahead. Not many players have that ability.”

The irony is despite his indifference toward the board game, Thomson has found himself a move ahead of Buergis for the past few years.

After a brief meeting in Switzerland, both made quick stops at William & Mary, and Thomson then brought Buergis to the Gophers for his second year at the helm.

What this follow-the-leader process has brought is a season only Thomson – always a move ahead – had anticipated. With Buergis winning her first six conference matches at No. 1 singles, Minnesota has reached the summit of the Big Ten by ending Northwestern’s 29-match Big Ten winning streak.

“It’s definitely a goal for us to win the Big Ten championship,” Buergis said. “Tyler told us no women’s tennis team here has ever won the Big Ten, so that would be huge.”

But before Thomson begat this conference-leading team, Buergis’s path to Minnesota spanned a good portion of the globe and went through him most of the way.

In Switzerland, she found success early in life. A peak of her tennis career came at the 1996 Federation Cup. As a 16-year-old, she played doubles paired with future two-time Australian Open champion Martina Hingis and against a young Anna Kournikova.

“Sometimes it’s tough to see where they’re at compared to where I’m at,” Buergis said. “But I also know that it helps on the court to have that type of experience.”

Later, while looking for a college to play tennis at in the states, she got in contact with coaches like Thomson – then an assistant coach with the Tribe – through a recruiting agency called the Global Sports Connection.

Buergis eventually got word that William & Mary had become interested in her. A month later, she was told Thomson was in town.

Given Thomson’s interest and the academic opportunity available to her, she jumped at the chance to play for the Tribe. Thomson spent a couple of days in Buergis’s hometown, and the two quickly formed a relationship.

So when Buergis signed on to play for William & Mary and later learned that Thomson had left for Minnesota, disappointment set in.

“I think she felt a little betrayed when I left William & Mary because of the friendship we had developed,” Thomson said. “Then she arrived and I wasn’t even there anymore.”

After spending a season with the Thomson-less Tribe, Buergis decided the setting and social environment of Williamsburg, Va., weren’t for her.

After a short search, Thomson, the Carlson School of Management and the big-city location of the campus lured her to the Gophers.

These days she sees her future as a business professional instead of a tennis professional. But this doesn’t mean she’s done with the sport.

Bringing her world-class experience from the land of the Alps to the land of 10,000 lakes, she has the Gophers in position to win their first-ever Big Ten championship.

So when she lost her first conference match of the season to seventh-ranked Cristelle Grier on Sunday, she knows she has to get past the 6-0, 6-0 lashing and focus on the next several weeks.

“I definitely expected more,” Buergis said. “I probably will and hope I can play her again at least. It would be fine with me, and it can only get better.”

Aaron Blake covers tennis and welcomes comments at [email protected]