Gophers recruits may clash at state

Two of the top incoming recruits for Gophers men’s tennis may square off this week, Tucker Saxon and Eric Frueh.

Andrew Baker

Although Tucker Saxon and Eric Frueh will be teammates on the Gophers tennis team next year, for now the two high school seniors are old rivals.

Barring any early-round upsets, the two will likely face off in a showdown this week in the semifinal singles round of the state high school tennis tournament on campus.

It might seem like a high-pressure situation for Saxon, the three-time defending Class 2A, Section 4 singles champion at Mahtomedi, who was announced last week as the latest signed 2011-12 Gophers tennis recruit.

âÄúIâÄôd probably say this will be the first year IâÄôm not nervous,âÄù the Zephyrs captain said of the state tournament, âÄúprobably because itâÄôs the last one. I mean, all those nerves have kind of been dealt with the last three years.âÄù

Adding to SaxonâÄôs confidence, he said, is the fact that last fall he beat Frueh, of Rochester Century, for the first time in a United States Tennis Association tournament.

Last year at state, Frueh bounced Saxon 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 in the quarterfinals.

âÄúEver since [beating Frueh], now I look at him in a completely different light,âÄù Saxon said of his potential opponent. âÄúIâÄôll be ready to go, so I hope he is.âÄù

In youth tennis, elite players from the same state get to know each other fairly well, meaning a friend can also be a bitter rival.

Saxon estimated he has known Frueh and been playing against him for about six to eight years. The two are friendly off the court, and have hung out at each otherâÄôs houses.

âÄúWe all respect each other, IâÄôd like to say,âÄù Saxon said of the stateâÄôs elite singles competitors, âÄúbut you can tell that [on the court] itâÄôs pretty hostile.âÄù 

Over the years, Saxon has learned to channel that hostility âÄî in the past, his emotions often got the better of him when a match wasnâÄôt going his way.

âÄúI used to not really have that much fun to be honest,âÄù Saxon said, âÄúbut in the last couple years IâÄôve just realized that if I do it every day, thereâÄôs got to be something I like about it and I finally just found out how fun it can be.âÄù

When Justen Seim took over as head boysâÄô tennis coach at Mahtomedi two years ago, Saxon already was a seasoned varsity competitor used to a different coach.

âÄúOver the last two years, heâÄôs just âÄî I guess the best way to describe it is matured,âÄù Seim said of Saxon, âÄúmost importantly as a person.

âÄúOn the court heâÄôs matured also, but I think just becoming an older person and now being a senior, he understands the importance of everything at hand.âÄù

Saxon has parlayed the personal growth gained in six years on the varsity team into a role as a mentor for his younger teammates, some of whom Saxon said struggle with the same mental issues that he had as a younger player.

âÄú[At practice] I try to have everyone just have fun,âÄù Saxon said. âÄúWhen kids are getting a little too tense I try to just joke around with them, make them laugh a little bit just so they have a little bit more fun and hopefully then they play better.âÄù

Asked where he will need to improve to compete at the college level, Saxon said: âÄúI have all the shots, itâÄôs just [that] I need to kind of get that professional focus and learn how to buckle down.âÄù