Jan. 17, 2014
A youthful Rice men's tennis team will open their 2014 dual season with a pair of rugged challenges as the Owls will host 20th ranked Texas and 24th ranked LSU this weekend in Houston.
The Owls and Longhorns will kick off the dual season with a 6 p.m. indoor matchup at The Met Club Downtown on Friday and then open the final season of competition at Jake Hess Tennis Stadium by hosting LSU on Sunday at noon. The first 100 fans at the LSU match will receive a Rice Tennis t-shirt and free pizza will be served after the conclusion of the doubles matches.
Rice heads into dual action after tuning up last weekend at the UCF Hidden Dual even last weekend in Orlando, Florida. While no team scores were kept, the Owls went head to head with three ranked teams, #39 TCU, #48 Louisville and #56 Indiana in addition to The Citadel. Head coach Efe Ustundag called the opening effort productive, allowing the team a chance to return to competition and also familiarize themselves with the new dual scoring system that the ITA has implemented for the first six weeks of the 2014 dual season.
"We were a little bit rusty against Louisville (the opening match), but we met after and showed a real change the next day against Indiana. That carried over against The Citadel and then the final match against TCU, who we will see down the road in April was a good preview of our team. We had a good competition across the courts and played at a good level against a good team," Ustundag said.
With only five players on the roster with any past dual experience, the Owls will count on four freshmen to quickly embrace the dual format. But Ustundag saw signs of that development last weekend.
"I'm happy with the chemistry of this group. We made a decision to recruit players who we feel will play their best in the dual format and you could see the players picking up their intensity even though last weekend was not being scored as a team event. When you hear guys calling out when they would win points on their courts, that showed they were already getting in the mindset for the dual season."
The rugged early assignments might not have been an ideal way to break the newest Owls into dual action, but Ustundag said he felt it was important for the team to experience a high level of competition rather than schedule easy victories. "When you want to compete at a high level, there are not always a lot of options or scheduling leeway available to you. Texas and LSU were open this weekend and we decided to go for it."
The new ITA rules will see no-ad scoring in both singles and doubles, tie-breaks in singles at 5-5 and doubles decided by six wins instead of eight as well as concluding the doubles matches once the point is clinched are all designed to speed up matches. The warm up period between singles and doubles has also been eliminated. All rule changes will be in place through the completion of the ITA Indoor Championships on February 10.
Ustundag looks forward to the seeing the changes in action and knows his players have to be ready for an intense doubles set from the first serve of the day.
"In doubles, with the shortened set and no ad scoring, you've got to really be on from the start. There is no time to recover. A slow start in doubles could mean a 15 minute match. It could move quickly, so you want to be sure to be in your seats for the start of the matches," he added.