Thomson gives women’s tennis mental advantage

David La Vaque

There is no clock adorning the wall in Tyler Thomson’s office, but Minnesota’s newly hired women’s tennis coach knows what time it is.

His desk is almost entirely covered with paperwork he’s accumulated over his first three weeks, yet Thomson keeps his day planner in plain sight.

After a four-year stint as an assistant coach at William and Mary, Thomson is anxious to mold the first team he has ever called his own.

Thomson’s players will be athletic and cerebral – capable of beating opponents with their foresight and forehand.

His cluttered office suggests Thomson’s vision is still materializing, still buried under paperwork. But he can see glimpses of the future, and knows they’re not a mirage.

“In many departments you’re just told to do fairly well and fill a role,” Thomson said. “Here, they want me to succeed and are giving me every opportunity to do so.”

For starters, there is Ridder Arena. The facility, set to open next fall, lies just west of Mariucci Arena and will house 10 indoor tennis courts, in addition to 12 outdoor courts.

“I can’t even put into words how much the facility will help the current team as well as recruiting,” Thomson said. “To be able to walk two blocks and hit anytime of day will be great.”

While the words escape Thomson, the wins must not. Minnesota made 2000-01 its sixth consecutive winning season (11-9), but the Gophers posted their worst Big Ten record (3-7) since 1995.

The program has never won a conference championship nor produced an All-American – two of Thomson’s goals.

“The Big Ten is not an overwhelmingly powerful tennis conference,” Thomson said. “There’s one or two teams every year at the elite level, but they’re not out of reach by any stretch.”

Thomson’s immediate success rests on players such as 2001 All-Big Ten singles pick Valerie Vladea. Michaela Havelkova and Brandi Watts have also emerged as solid performers this season.

“I’ve said to a number of people how pleased I am with what we’ve got here,” Thomson said. “The cupboard is not bare. Am I going to try to get better? Hell yeah; We’ve got so much work to work on it’s overwhelming. But we have talent on this team and they’re all incredibly eager to learn.”

And Thomson will coach them extensively. He employs a hands-on, aggressive and strategic coaching style.

He teaches players how to develop a point, break down an opponent’s weakness and take initiative in pressing the issue. Between every point, Thomson stresses court position, recovery and shot anticipation.

“A good billiards player will tell you to always think two shots ahead,” Thomson said. “Two shots ahead is maybe a little ambitious in tennis, but I want them hitting shots to get a certain type of shot back.”

Thomson honed his skills working under William and Mary coach Brian Kalbas – whom Thomson calls the best women’s tennis coach in the country, and credits 99 percent of his knowledge.

Though he’d been a four-year starter in doubles at the University of Montana, Thomson “didn’t know what it meant to develop a point, to work a point, to hit a variety of balls – I just went out there and hit.”

At William and Mary, Thomson studied the game intently, frequently asking questions of Kalbas during practices. His worship of the work ethic paid off in 1999 when Thomson earned assistant coach of the year honors in the East Region.

Thomson’s dreams to coach at the Division I level were realized on Oct. 11 when Minnesota announced his hiring.

The aspiring Grand Master has his chessboard.

“I’m going to bust my butt,” Thomson said. “And I’m optimistic things will fall into place as a result of that. And that’s not to neglect the women on this team. They are working hard because they are very hungry to get better.”

David La Vaque is the sports editor and welcomes comments at
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