Caitlyn Merzbacher adjusts to first year without her dad coaching

The junior has gone 9-1 in singles and 8-2 in doubles this year.

Junior Caitlyn Merzbacher returns the ball during her singles match against the University of South Dakota at the Baseline Tennis Center on Friday, Feb. 9.

Jack Rodgers, Daily File Photo

Junior Caitlyn Merzbacher returns the ball during her singles match against the University of South Dakota at the Baseline Tennis Center on Friday, Feb. 9.

Max Biegert

Junior Caitlyn Merzbacher had one tennis coach her whole life. 

Chuck Merzbacher was the women’s tennis coach at Minnesota for five years and, in his last two years for the Gophers, he coached his daughter, Caitlyn Merzbacher. 

Caitlyn Merzbacher, now a junior, has gone 9-1 in singles matches in her first year without her father at the helm. She has more than doubled her victory total from her first two years at Minnesota. She also plays with Mehvish Safdar in the No. 1 doubles spot, where they have gone 8-2 this year. 

“I definitely think it has been a good change for me too, just to be like a normal kid on the team,” Merzbacher said. “I loved having my dad as a coach, and I wouldn’t want to change anything about that, but being able to come into my own as a player and a teammate has been really nice.” 

Merzbacher has played in three singles spots this season. She has fluctuated between mostly the No. 4 and No. 5 spots, but she picked up a victory in her only time playing in the No. 3 spot this season. Merzbacher said it has taken her longer than she thought to get used to playing singles. She grew up playing doubles with her dad and focused more of her time on doubles than she did singles. 

When Merzbacher came to college, she noticed the difference of singles play right away. She said the more she played singles matches, whether it was in college or during the summer, the more comfortable she felt. Merzbacher said she needed to utilize some of the skills in doubles into her strategy for singles matches if she wanted to be successful.

“The difference in singles was actually a little bit of a shock to me coming from juniors to college,” Merzbacher said. “Working on my movement and quickness, attacking and moving forward on the court trying to transfer some of the doubles skills like being at the net more into singles play has been a big factor in my success.”

Her doubles partner, Safdar, have known each other for a long time. Merzbacher was living in Ohio while her dad was coaching at Ohio State. Caitlyn Merzbacher grew up around the Columbus area, while Safdar lived closer to Cincinnati. They developed a unique bond even before they were teammates at Minnesota, as they saw and played against each other in junior tournaments across Ohio. 

The pair have used their close understanding of one another to help them on the court in the No. 1 doubles spot. Safdar said they know what each other are thinking out there and understand each other’s games well. Safdar also said Caitlyn has been a close friend for a while and isn’t surprised she is doing so well in singles matches this year.

“I think something that is great about Caitlyn is that when she gets the opportunity she embraces the challenge,” Safdar said. “She shows in her play that is where she is supposed to be and she performs really well under the pressure.”

Thompson said that she had conversations with Chuck Merzbacher prior to the season and said he was really helpful showing her the ropes. Thompson talked with Caitlyn Merzbacher and said she understands that she has had one coach her whole life and it would be tough to transition. 

“With Caitlyn, I just talked about making sure she was open to new coaching philosophies,” said head coach Catrina Thompson, who took over for Chuck Merzbacher in August. “For anybody it is tough to deal with change, but she has been incredible.”