Creating Your Vision and Game Plan to Play College Tennis

By Ed Krass, Director, College Tennis Exposure Camp
Published by NY Tennis Magazine – May 24, 2016

Most college coaches are interested in recruiting players who compete in USTA tournaments. Tournament play really puts pressure on players, and it’s this type of pressure that allows for the feeling of both failure and success within this competitive format. If a player really wants to go on to the next level and play college tennis, then they need to look forward to the pressure of tournament play. Billie Jean King once said: “Pressure is a privilege,” and players need to learn how to compete before entering tournaments.

This is best done by organizing and playing practice sets and matches against other juniors of similar abilities. I once worked with a local junior player from Tampa, Fla. named Evan Dufaux, who played five practice matches a week and three tournaments a month. Evan worked himself up to as high as number seven in the National USTA Rankings en route to a scholarship to play for Vanderbilt. Evan, at 6’3”, was a super hard worker with a strong all-court game. Evan’s vision and game plan were very clear: He wanted to play college tennis at the highest level and he did.

Our ranking systems with the USTA, Tennis Recruiting Network (star-rating) and Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) are there for players and coaches to see where competitors are ranked. I really like the innovative UTR system for rating players from 0-16. Roger Federer is rated a 16 and Serena Williams is rated a 13.4. One’s rating with the UTR is quickly rewarded with strong tournament results. Unlike other ranking systems, the UTR calculates losses into a player’s rating. For instance, if a player is rated an eight on the UTR and loses a three-setter to a player who is rated a 10.5 on the UTR, he or she may move their rating up closer to a nine if their other results remain competitively consistent.

The rankings do not always tell the entire story about a player’s future potential to play successful college tennis. One clear example of this is a boy named Jeremy Kochman from Brooklyn, N.Y. Jeremy finished his junior tournament playing career ranked as a two-star player, ranked 25th in New York and 282nd nationally on Tennis Recruiting Network in 2012. Jeremy trained and competed at the College Tennis Exposure Camp at Lehigh University during both the summers of his junior and senior years. Jeremy displayed five-star heart, a tenacious work ethic and the ability to serve-and-volley in both his singles and doubles matches. His two-star rating was below what the Lehigh coaches were looking for; however, the Lehigh coach really liked Jeremy’s upside at our camp and decided to recruit him.

“We prefer to recruit the highest-ranked players for our team. We chose Jeremy due to his tireless work ethic, all-court game and his five-star heart,” said Wouter Hendrix, head men’s and women’s tennis coach at Lehigh.

The rest is history! Jeremy, now a graduating senior at Lehigh, has been a factor in both singles and doubles to Lehigh’s starting lineup since his freshman year. He is now Lehigh’s number one player.

Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), which reached a National Division III ranking of sixth, recruited mostly two-star players as graduating high school seniors in 2014. This is a rare feat, as Division III’s top 10 teams are all heavily laced with the top three-star, four-star and five-star players. CWRU Head Men’s Coach Todd Wojtkowski said, “I like two-star players who have played another sport and are highly motivated to play college tennis. These players need to be strong academically and need to enjoy playing year-round.”

Training at camps taught by all head college tennis coaches can certainly accelerate both the improvement and recruitment process for players who are “flying under the radar.” Playing college tennis, at any level, will provide a successful pathway to a productive and happy life. For players aiming to play at the highest levels of Division I, II or III, rankings and ratings are going to be important as a coach’s determining factor.

There are many quality college programs taking players without the high national (top 200 U.S.) rankings. With many of our nation’s college coaches getting overloaded with more than 100 e-mails, videos and letters of interest per week, an opportunity to meet in-person is optimal. To have the chance to play in front of the coach is even better. To work on the court with the college coach is the best of all scenarios. For a coach to get to know a player’s personality, work ethic and coachability is invaluable. A college coach can then deduce the player’s “upside” in relation to what the coach is looking for in a recruit. With more than 27 years of directing the College Tennis Exposure Camps, I have seen many of our summer camp players make their goal of playing college tennis a reality.