Freshman off

by Mark Heller

Junior Martin Michalowski and freshman Thomas Haug dyed their hair blonde this week, just in time for the Big Ten tennis championships this weekend in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“We wanted to get everyone to do it,” Haug said. “But a couple people backed out.”
Haug, a freshman who arrived at Minnesota in January, isn’t one to back out of things. Switzerland wouldn’t let him.
After Haug finished high school in Zurich, he — like all Swiss men at age 18 — entered the Swiss army in February 1998, where he had to serve for four months.
“If I stay here and can get a visa to be a citizen, then I don’t have to go back into the military,” Haug said. “If I am in Switzerland, I have to spend two weeks every two or three years in the military. Otherwise I have to pay about three percent of my earnings to the Swiss military.”
After his obligatory military stint, Haug played Swiss tournaments for a couple of months before heading to Minnesota in January.
Haug’s high school finals went from December 1997 to the following February, which didn’t allow him time to play. While in the military, he was only able to hit the court once a week. If Haug had stayed in Switzerland, he would have been forced to choose between school or tennis.
“There was no way to play sports and go to college at the same time back home,” Haug said. “Class takes up about 35 hours a week, and then you have to study a couple hours for each class.”
Haug decided on tennis, and was noticed by Steve Bickham and Mark Ozer, both of whom are friends of Minnesota tennis coach David Geatz and travel to Europe to scout international players. Ozer asked Haug if he was interested in Minnesota. Haug said yes, and Ozer than contacted Geatz.
“I was a little nervous when he arrived,” Geatz said. “He didn’t know anyone, and he came in the middle of winter, which isn’t the easiest thing to do in Minnesota.”
But Haug already knew a thing or two about winter.
“At home we had 16 feet of snow in January,” Haug said. “That’s the most in one month in 50 or 75 years.”
Haug was more than ready for the Minnesota winters, but like many international athletes, he arrived a little dazed and confused about Big Ten tennis.
“When we played against Illinois (Jan. 30),” sophomore Tyson Parry said, “we lost 4-3 and he thought that we tried and just had bad luck. He had no idea that we were playing the No. 2 team in the country.”
Haug has gone 9-1 in Big Ten singles matches, 13-6 overall. Haug and freshman Ryan Davies have gone 3-3 in conference doubles matches.
Better late than never.
Haug has more than survived the transition from Europe to Minnesota, and even if all his expressions aren’t grammatically correct, his tennis has spoken for itself.
Geatz for one, can’t wait to see what Haug is capable of with a full year under his belt, let alone the next four.
“By the time he leaves,” Geatz said, “he will be one of the best ever at Minnesota.”