May 13, 2014
Florida State’s Cristian Gonzalez Mendez is a men’s tennis player from Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Throughout the summer as he transitions from a junior to a senior, Cristian will provide fans with an in depth look into the world of tennis both at Florida State and internationally in Spain.
Preparations for NCAAs
At 5 p.m. on April 29 the Men’s Tennis Division I selection show took place. The team gathered at the coaches’ office, where everyone voiced their opinions on where we thought the team was heading to play the NCAA Championship this year. Most of us, including me and the coaches, thought that we were going to travel to Texas. To everyone’s surprise, our final destination happened to be very close and well known: Gainesville.
Playing the National Championship is always exciting. Especially for senior Blake Davis as this is his last chance to make history with the team and leave a strong legacy behind for future generations. For everyone else it is the time to prove to the nation and ourselves that all the hard work we put throughout the year pays off. Similarl to last year, having the opportunity to play against the Seminoles’ all-time rival, the University of Florida, is what makes this competition more special and exciting.
However, before having the chance to beat the Gators at their home courts, we were facing another state rival, the University of South Florida. South Florida has had a great season so far, including winning their conference championship. During the season, we already faced this team and we were able to pull a hard fought 4-3 win at our home courts.
Preparing for NCAA’s is not as simple as it seems. First, after finishing the ACC Championship, we have about two weeks to get ready for nationals. One of those weeks is finals week, which makes it difficult to get a good week of practice in. We spent a lot of time preparing for exams and some players might only practice a couple of days. This leaves about a week to get a hundred percent ready to compete. Secondly, after a rough week of exams your body and especially your mind are exhausted.
On the other hand, because we know whom we are playing and how most of the match-ups are going to be, practices become more individualized. Each player gets the opportunity to work on specific strategies and plays that are effective against their opponents. As mentioned, because we have already played both teams this season, key plays and opponents’ weaknesses are more latent in our minds and we can take advantage of that.
Ultimately, everyone is very excited to compete at the NCAA Championship. One of the team’s goals for this season is to become a top16 team and we have the opportunity to do so. In addition, possibly playing UF is even more exciting as the whole team is extra motivated to play a rival.
Practice at the hosting site
Two days before having our first match at the NCAA tournament against South Florida, we traveled to Gainesville. It is important to get there early so we have enough time to practice on the new courts and adapt to them. We usually break down these practices in three or four different sections. First, we do the basic hitting through the middle, cross-courts, volleys and serves, for about half an hour in order to get used to the bounce and speed of the courts. Right after that, we move onto doubles drills. We do some doubles games imitating match day situations and then we play a set. Because doubles play is usually faster than singles, it does not take longer than 45 minutes to finish with the doubles drills. Third, it is very helpful to play about six games to a set of singles. We play for about 40 or 45 minutes of singles games that allows us to get a better feeling of the courts, as well as it helps to keep our court movement high. Finally, in some instances we do individual work on specific shots that we feel we are doing well enough.
Match day is quite different than any other practice we have. Because we had a 9 am match we woke up around 6:30 to have breakfast. Having a good breakfast is essential to keep your energy high during the match. After breakfast, we head to the courts where each player does his own rituals. Personally, I like to get my rackets ready by changing the grips and drink a lot of fluids to stay hydrated.
About one hour before the beginning of the match, we commence warming up. The warm up is very simple but varies from player to player. For example, I like to hit through the middle for about 20 or 25 minutes, then warm up volleys for a couple minutes and then serve for a long time. Other players prefer to do cross-courts and play baseline points during the warm up. Or hit more returns than serves, I personally rather hit more serves than returns.
Finally, we get to start the match against South Florida at 9. We all have been waiting for this moment. College tennis format starts with doubles play and after a 10-minute break continues with singles play. The match started good for us, we were a break up in all of the three courts and were able to manage those leads in courts 2 and 3 by winning 8-5 and 8-1, respectively. We did a good job in doubles by starting strong and with sense of urgency, which made the difference and gave us the 1-0 lead.
However, things turned around during singles matches. One of the things that we talked about after doubles was to get early breaks and leads in order to make it even harder for South Florida to come back, but we didn’t. We only led in two of the six first sets and fortunately won three first sets. At that point, we were still on a good position to win the match. However, South Florida had the momentum going on and got off two courts quickly to take a 2-1 lead. Things keep turning against us as we lost five out six seconds sets and found ourselves needing to win three three-setter matches. There was still hope as Marco Nunez won his match 6-3 in the third set and tied the match. At this stage, both teams needed to win two of the three remaining matches. I had the lead on court 2 while South Florida was winning on court 5. On court 6, the score was tied. From the court, I was able to feel the tightness of the situation. Everything was on the line. A late break on court 6 for South Florida was enough to crush our dreams and give the victory to South Florida who had also won on court 5. I was unable to finish my match on court 2 while I was serving for the win.
The whole team was very disappointed for losing to South Florida. We had big hopes for this year’s tournament. I believe we had a good opportunity to make it all the way to the final site, which we have not since 2009. Nevertheless, we are already working to get better for next season.
Check back later to Seminoles.com for my recap of the season.