Men's TennisSports

Senior leadership raises expectations

The Oregon men’s tennis team finally has the nucleus that has been missing in years past: senior leadership. With three four-year seniors in Alex Cornelissen, Marcos Verdasco and Ric Mortera, expectations are high for the team.

“This is the first year that it’s been all my guys since I took over,” head coach Nils
Schyllander said. “We totally see a difference in the guys from past years. Their work ethic and leadership, especially.”

The difference is noticeable even in practices. The Student Tennis Center was full of laughter Tuesday during warm-ups as the guys took turns chucking tennis balls across the courts. The team broke up in fits after Verdasco’s turn, and it just illustrates how well they fit in with each other.

“This is the first year where everyone has clicked together,” Cornelissen said. “Everybody wants to fight for one another and we really need that to be good.”

So far this fall, the Ducks have played two tournaments, but for the team it has been more about getting guys who have spent the summer rehabilitating injuries back into tennis shape. Verdasco is coming off knee surgery to fix an injury he sustained last April and the ITA-All-American Tournament in Tulsa, Okla., earlier this month was his first tournament since then.

“I wasn’t able to play all summer,” Verdasco said. “I couldn’t go running and I still really can’t. I did a lot of hiking and swimming.”

The Spanish native spent the summer rehabbing with his cousin Fernando Verdasco, who is ranked No. 9 in the world on the ATP World Tour. He travelled across the globe and said that the experience helped him improve as a player.

“I was doing a lot of rehab with (my cousin) and it was great because I feel that much stronger in the core,” he said.

Verdasco wasn’t the only guy not able to play this summer. Cornelissen has just recently come back from getting his knee scoped over the summer as well.

“Over the summer I was out for a pretty long time and played just a little,” the senior from Belgium said. “I was out for two months because of my surgery and some injections. It has only been in the last few weeks where I’ve been able to play.”

Cornelissen and Verdasco were doubles partners at the ITA, and they went 1-1, losing in the second round 8-6 to a team from William & Mary. But Schyllander is encouraged with their play despite some obvious rust because they beat a very good Baylor team in the first round.

“I think Alex played at a very high level in Tulsa,” Schyllander said. “It was a good first round win. It was probably the highest he’s played since he’s got here. Doubles-wise, to get a win over Baylor, which is a perennial top five team, was a great start to the year.”

Verdasco lost his only singles match of the tournament 4-6, 4-3, and it led to a frustrating moment, but he said that he just needs to get back into shape and the kinks will be worked out.

“I need to improve on my rhythm and my conditioning,” he said. “In my first match, in the first set I felt like I had a lot of opportunities. But then after that it was hard because I felt like I couldn’t push with my knees. I feel like I’m stronger, but I need to get that strength back on the court.”

Oregon’s next opportunity to get on the court will be Oct. 23 at the ITA Regionals in Berkeley, Calif. Most of the Pac-10 schools will be there and the team is excited to see how they measure against their spring competition.

“There are going to be a lot of schools and opportunities for every guy to prove himself for the season,” Cornelissen said. “And it will put us on the board as a team.”

Schyllander said he’s curious to see how his team stacks up against those teams, but he’s not the only one excited for the team’s growth — the whole team is.

“I feel the team is playing great,” Verdasco said. “We have the two new guys. They fit so well with the team and they’re really nice guys. I honestly feel like this year is the best since I’ve been here.”

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