Men’s college tennis is becoming a foreign affair.
Four highly touted freshman born outside the United States are integrating their camaraderie on and off the court in hopes of bringing the Gophers men’s tennis team back to Big Ten dominance.
Ed Marques, Jon Svensson, Jorge Duenas and Tyson Parry make up Minnesota’s freshman class this season. The group is making early contributions and leaving high expectations for the future.
“The team is perfect,” Marques said. “Everybody’s friends, there is no conflict and we’re always supporting one another.”
Parry saw the friendships grow right away.
“From the first day we got here we really clicked together,” he said.
The fact that none of them are U.S.-born has brought them closer together.
“Since we all live in the same place and because we’re all foreign, we spend all of our time together,” Duenas said.
The new recruiting class means six of the 10 players on Minnesota’s roster are foreign-born.
But the trend of having foreign players on U.S. rosters is not exclusive to the Gophers. According to Tennis Magazine’s October 1997 issue, 67 of the top 100 college players are from outside the United States.
“It’s hard to pick a lot of good players around the United States,” said Svensson, whose first trip to the United States was to the University. “You have to look around like Coach (David) Geatz did.
All four freshmen listed Geatz’s reputation and personality as a critical factor in choosing Minnesota, and said they are pleased with their relationships with him so far.
“He’s a very good coach. He really works with us and wants us to improve,” Svensson said. “When you feel that a coach really wants you to improve as a player, then you will.”
The lack of even one senior on Minnesota’s roster doesn’t scare the newcomers; in fact, they use it as motivation for the future. Marques, a Brazilian who patterns his game after Thomas Muster’s “never quit attitude,” said he is not concerned about the lack of leadership or the subsequent pressure that’s put on the new players.
“If there were seniors on the team we would be better, but we’re looking into the future,” he said.
Duenas agreed, saying the youth is “better for the team. We have a good shot at winning in the coming years.”
So far, their impact has been felt. Duenas, Svensson and Parry are all in the top six singles starters, with Marques next in line. The three players in the top six have posted a combined 7-2 singles record in team play for the 2-1 Gophers.
The freshmen are confident and excited about the potential they have to rebuild Minnesota into the dominant team it was in the early 1990s. The Gophers won the Big Ten championship every year from 1992 to 1995, but fell seventh place last season with an overall record of 12-14.
“Nobody graduates this year,” Svensson said. “We’re gonna be better next year, and have a tough team.”
The four have lofty expectations, even in the short-term; their goals include winning a Big Ten championship, earning a top 20 ranking and gaining a berth to the NCAA Championships this season.
“We’re not concerned about the pressure. It can be good,” Svensson said. “We’re freshman academic-wise, but not tennis-wise. We all have international experience.”