COLLEGE STATION – The No. 13-ranked Texas A&M men’s tennis team gets ready for a pair of indoor road matches in a span of three days at No. 25 Notre Dame and No. 33 Louisville this weekend.
First serve between the Aggies and Fighting Irish is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. (CT) at the Eck Tennis Pavilion in South Bend, Ind., while A&M and Louisville will face each other on Sunday, March 1 at 10 a.m. (CT) at the Bass-Rudd Tennis Center in Louisville, Ky.
The Aggies (3-2) received good news on Thursday as freshman Alexey Grigorov (Moscow, Russia) was certified through the NCAA Eligibility Center to compete for A&M in this weekend’s matches. The 6-foot-1 right-hander, one of the top five players in the world in the ITF juniors rankings, chose A&M over several other top college tennis programs in the country. He previously trained at the Roddick Total Tennis Academy in San Antonio, Texas.
Over the weekend, Grigorov received a wild-card entry and competed as an amateur in the singles main draw of the Harlingen Country Club Futures tournament held in Harlingen, Texas. He eventually lost to fifth-seeded and No. 382-ranked American Jesse Witten, but it was an opportunity for him to get some match play in, while waiting for a ruling by the NCAA.
“Alexey is going to be a major contributor for us,” Texas A&M head coach Steve Denton said. “We are going to be a lot better in singles and doubles, because he is a heck of a player. Aggie fans are going to be excited to watch him play over the next couple of years. He has a lot of experience and has played some big time matches. He has been working hard over the last month just waiting for this opportunity. We are very excited to have him on our team.”
Notre Dame (6-6) and Louisville (10-1) will present tough competition, especially in the doubles. The Fighting Irish boast the No. 12-ranked doubles combination of Brett Helgeson and Tyler Davis, while the Cardinals have the sixth-best duo in the nation in Austen Childs and Simon Childs.
Texas A&M’s top tandem of senior All-American Conor Pollock (San Antonio, Texas) and sophomore All-American Austin Krajicek (Brandon, Fla.) are currently ranked a career-best No. 8 nationally. Both have put together a six-match win streak including an undefeated 5-0 mark in dual matches. The 2008 NCAA Doubles Championship semifinalists have posted a 13-4 overall record this season.
“Both of those two doubles teams are going to be formidable challenges for Conor and Austin,” Denton said. “With an eight-game pro-set indoors where conditions are pretty fast, if you make one bad volley or have one bad serve, it is hard to get back into it. They will have to be really alert and will not be able to play loose points and loose games. You have to play every point. They have been running hot lately and had some good success. If they are on their game, there is no better team in the country than them.”
A&M has practice indoors for the last week in preparation for the expected conditions. Notre Dame is looking to rebound from a pair of losses to third-ranked Ohio State on Feb. 21 and No. 31 Kentucky on Feb. 23, while U of L is off to its best start since the 1998 season. The Aggies have won the last three out of four meetings with the Fighting Irish and hold a 1-0 advantage in the all-time series with the Cardinals.
“They are both good indoor teams and it will be two close matches for us,” Denton said. “They are both playing at home in familiar surroundings and it is going to be a challenge for us. Right now, we are playing better as a team. Our guys are starting to get the hang of playing indoors. The more they play, the more comfortable they are going to get. It forces some of our players out of their comfort zones and what they are accustomed to. In the end, it is going to make us a lot better team when we get back outside in March.”
With the addition of Grigorov to the lineup, Denton says it makes the team a lot stronger especially with four players who can play at No. 1. The Aggies are led by Pollock who is ranked No. 14 nationally in singles followed by sophomore Wil Spencer (Ponce de Leon, Fla.) at No. 35 and Krajicek at No. 69.
“The addition of Alexey gives us the opportunity to compete with some really big teams,” Denton said. “We have a lot of depth this season and it has definitely lifted the spirits of our entire team.”
Pollock Eyes 50…Two-time All-Big 12 Conference player Conor Pollock is one singles win shy of gaining entrance into the Career 50-Win Club in the A&M record books. He has compiled 75 overall career doubles victories to date and has already reached 50 career doubles victories in dual matches with an 8-5 victory over No. 12-ranked Emanu Brighiu and Adrian Simon of TCU on Feb. 18 with the help of doubles partner Austin Krajicek.
Catch The Coach Denton Radio Show On Mondays…Listen to the Steve Denton Radio Show live every Monday at 4:15 p.m. (CT) on Chip Howard’s SportsTalk broadcast live on KZNE 1150 AM The Zone in College Station. Denton joins Chip Howard for the only college tennis coach’s radio show in the nation. Each week, the duo will recap and preview matches for the nationally-ranked Aggies. The weekly radio show airs every Monday from February through the NCAA Championships and can also be heard worldwide on the Internet at: www.KZNE.com.