Kristoffersen returns to old form after slumping his sophomore year

by Ken Zimmer

In a season of ups and downs for the Gophers men’s tennis team, one of the squad’s only constants has been a player who was hardly the model of consistency during his first two years at Minnesota.
After a pair of seasons that yielded very different results, Martin Kristoffersen has returned to the winning ways of his freshman season.
“I think last year I was struggling in school, and was trying to catch up,” the junior said. “This year I’m more relaxed and not worried so much about classes.”
His first season with the Gophers brought him early success, as he compiled a 22-14 singles record, including a 13-match winning streak. However, Kristoffersen suffered through his sophomore season while his mind wandered away from his tennis game. He fell to a 9-14 record while being shuffled in and out of the starting lineup.
Coach David Geatz said Kristoffersen has been streaky in the past, but sees more confidence in him this season.
“I’ve seen him play really good, and I’ve seen him play really bad,” Geatz said. “Right now he could play at the top of the lineup.”
Team captain Martin Michalowski said Kristoffersen is more laid back this season, and an improved team atmosphere has helped his game.
“He’s a lot more positive,” he said. “He used to tend to get down on himself. Now he lightens up practice and is one of the funnier guys on the team.”
Kristoffersen is 8-0 in dual matches this season while shifting between the No. 5 and No. 6 singles position.
Perhaps his impact on the team was most evident in the Gophers’ 4-3 loss to Michigan Sunday. Geatz rested Kristoffersen from competition for the first time in almost a month, but later questioned his decision.
“I probably screwed up not playing Martin against Michigan, although we do have seven guys who can play,” he said. “Here’s a great player on a roll. We probably would have won the match had he played.”
Then again, Kristoffersen has already had plenty of chances to make his mark.
The Norway native began playing tennis when he was six years old. He came to the University because he wanted to play college tennis, and because “no college athletics are offered in Norway.”
After talking to fellow Norway native and former Gopher standout Lars Hjarrand, he decided to bring his baseline game to the Twin Cities.
Kristoffersen said the best asset he brought to Minnesota is his speed, which allows him to chase down balls all around the court. But as one of the smallest guys on the team, he has deceptive power.
“There’s a lot of things Martin can do, and one of them is hit the ball,” Geatz said.
Teammate Voke Okoh said he is impressed with Kristoffersen’s multitude of skills, including the velocity with which he hits the ball.
“He’s fast, quick, nimble and has good strength,” Okoh said.
Those attributes have helped him regain his form. Geatz said Kristoffersen has been one of his two “rocks” on the team this season. The other is freshman Jon Svensson, who also is unbeaten in dual matches.
“(Kristoffersen) can beat anybody on the team,” he said. “At No. 6 we need someone to play a good game.”
Kristoffersen has a lot of confidence in the team, despite the fact that it is 2-7 in its last nine matches. Four of Minnesota’s nine losses on the season were by the score of 4-3.
The season still leaves the Gophers a chance to prove themselves, and no doubt Kristoffersen will have a part in that. The next three matches are all against nationally ranked competition.
“I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t win the Big Ten tournament,” Kristoffersen said. “We know we can beat everybody … we should have won some of those (4-3) matches. We just need everyone to have a good day on the same day.”