Tournaments help Cats gear up for start of regular season

By Laura Pepper

With a little over one week remaining before the regular season and a little over two weeks until its first home match, the UK men’s tennis team is preparing rigorously to better its 13-15 performance in 2007.

During the fall season, team members competed solely in tournament play. Fall tournaments allow players to improve their personal game without worrying about regular season rules, such as team scores.

Besides practices, team members had the opportunity to condition for the regular season in nine tournaments that began in September. The tournament record does not count toward UK’s regular season record.

“In the tournaments, we try to get the players exposed to the pressures of match play. It is a lot different than in practice,” head coach Dennis Emery said. “It helps them to prepare for the dual match season. They can see how fit they are.”

Because of the tournament schedule this season, the senior players participated in the fall tournaments but are not competing in the January tourneys. Instead, players who were injured earlier in the season are being given the opportunity to play this month.

“Most times, we try to get all players into the tournaments,” Emery said.

Junior Shane Collins was the only UK player that participated in the Notre Dame Invitational, which took place over the weekend. The tournament gave him his first playing time since he underwent surgery to remove a bone from his hand, which sidelined him for over three months.

“Coming back last weekend, I got my mind back into playing matches,” Collins said. “Last weekend was just to get back in the swing of things. This weekend, I am going to expect a lot more out of my game.”

Collins went 1-2 in the tournament, which included players from No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 3 Ohio State.

“He did pretty good coming out of the box in his first match play since July,” Emery said. “It was a pretty competitive field.”

Collins, freshman Alberto Gonzalez and freshman Will Beck are scheduled to play in the Ohio State Invitational, which is held Friday through Sunday.

While these players compete in the January tournaments, the rest of team continues to practice six days a week.

“We do quite a bit during practice; it’s pretty intense,” Emery said. “They work on getting more athletic and improving their individual skills.”

Senior Will Ward, who participated in three of the fall tournaments, is coming off of two wrist surgeries on his right hand. He is using the practice time to focus on recovering for the regular season.

“I don’t know if I’m going to be 100 percent for the first couple of matches,” Ward said. “We have two double-headers against strong teams that are going to be tough, good matches against Indiana and Virginia, who is ranked No. 1 preseason. I am trying to get 100 percent healthy.”