GatorMen's Tennis History
1999-2000 SEASON PREVIEW
The future has arrived for the Gator men's tennis team. After equaling the best finish in school history a year ago, Florida is poised to make a run at the top of the tennis world. Florida is one of only four schools in the nation to rank in the Top 16 of the final rankings in each of the last nine years, and that sustained level of success has led the program to unmatched levels.
The 1999-2000 edition of Florida men's tennis returns seven of UF's top eight players, including 1999 NCAA singles champion Jeff Morrison and fellow All-Americans Justin O'Neal and Nathan Overholser. Florida's school-record three returning All-Americans in singles are the most of any school in the nation. That trio combined to post a 68-7 record in the top three spots, including an astounding 25-1 dual mark at No. 1 singles.
Add to that group two veterans in seniors Trey Adcock and Dylan Mann, versatile juniors in Marcos Asse and Will Brown, and the addition of outstanding newcomers Matt Behrmann and Olivier Levant to form a solid mix of experience and talent.
Head coach Ian Duvenhage, who begins his 12th season at the reins, says that the Gators are looking forward to an exciting season, but that talent does not always ensure success.
"I do not want to label these guys," says Duvenhage. "Our expectations are very, very high and all of us are very motivated to do extremely well and to do things that have never been done at the University of Florida.It is imperative that we keep in mind that every victory will have to be earned."
Duvenhage has always found that good teams learn from their lessons and he expects this year to be no different.
"I think we had a very good year last season," says Duvenhage. "We had a good nationals, but we had opportunities to have a great nationals. I would like for us to build on what we did last year and do considerably better."
Duvenhage likens this season to last year in using the previous year as a barometer for how much the team can accomplish. The 1997-98 squad failed to make the NCAA round of 16 and UF did not have any individuals win a match in singles or doubles at the NCAA Championships. This past season, in addition to UF's school-record tying quarterfinal showing in the team competition, Florida had a school-record three players reach the round of 16 in singles.
"Attitude and experience was the difference," says Duvenhage. "We had to go through the year before and face that adversity to be able to do what we did last year. I think what we did last year will help us this year and the experience that we gained from it and the lessons we learned will help us to do even better this year."
Another example that Duvenhage feels can greatly benefit the team is the one that was set by Morrison during his national title run. Now that the Gators have had three NCAA champions over the last seven years, two in singles and one in doubles, the rest of the team should not be surprised by success.
"It has been done here (winning the national title) now on a number of occasions," says Duvenhage. "The message is that you can succeed if you work hard, have a great attitude, and are willing to make changes. All kids will tell you that they want to get better, but very few are willing to change. Without change, you cannot make progress."
The top half of the UF lineup will again be manned by UF's threesome of Morrison, O'Neal and Overholser. Morrison, who became Florida's second NCAA singles titleist last May, continued to fine tune his game this past summer on satellite circuits and in a few ATP events. The highlight was an appearance in the main draw of the U.S. Open, a privilege for winning the NCAA title.
"This is a year for us to refine Jeff's game and to shore up some areas that can improve," says Duvenhage. "It is also a year for him to gain some maturity and it is very important that we make improved physical strength and durability a priority."
O'Neal, who earned his second All-America honor last year and reached the round of 16 at NCAAs, will be one of Florida's three seniors. He became just the second player in school history to earn All-America, All-SEC and SEC Academic Honor Roll status, accomplishing all three in the same season.
"This is Justin's last year and I am looking to him to not only have another great year on the court, but we need to get a big boost from him in terms of leadership," says Duvenhage. "He needs to set an example on a consistent basis and show the rest of the guys the way."
Overholser is coming off an impressive season as well, earning All-America and All-SEC honors in both singles and doubles. He reached the quarterfinals in singles at NCAAs and should be fully recovered from a hip injury he suffered in the beginning of the summer.
"Nathan had a great spring and ended it up well with an impressive NCAA Tournament," says Duvenhage. "With Nathan, we have to continue to pay attention to mechanics and make sure he stays technically sound. Nathan is really capable of stepping it way up."
The bottom half of the Gator lineup remains a key to UF's winning ways. Last year Florida's bottom three were important as the Gators notched a combined 33-3 record when Adcock, the departed Amr El Sawaf or Mann won in singles. Duvenhage says that El Sawaf, who was solid in the number four singles spot last year, will be missed in many ways.
"I think Amr did a really great job providing leadership and getting everyone on the same page for the next match," says Duvenhage. "He had a good year last year, but more so than the playing, we are going to miss the leadership."
Adcock and Mann both enter their final seasons with high expectations. Adcock won 20 matches for the first time in his career and clinched four Gator victories. Florida was 12-0 in dual play when Adcock won his singles match.
"I think Trey really grew up a lot last year and learned to take responsibility," says Duvenhage. "It showed on the court. I am really looking to him to provide leadership and for us to do well, it is going to be essential that he has his best year."
Mann notched 18 victories in 1998-99 and proved to be versatile, seeing action at three different spots in dual match play. Duvenhage says Mann is better than his performance from last season.
"Dylan had a below-average year last season," says Duvenhage. "I would like to see him get back to the kind of tennis he played as a freshman."
Asse and Brown round out Florida's returning class and Duvenhage hopes the two continue to get better every day. Asse made his first career dual appearances and the coaching staff has gained more confidence in his ability.
"Marcos has come a long way," says Duvenhage. "I still feel that Marcos is physically capable of playing for us, but he needs to believe that."
Brown won 10 matches for last year's team, including two victories in dual play.
"Will has a great attitude and a great work ethic," says Duvenhage. "He needs to cut out the unforced errors and needs to be able hurt his opponent on a more consistent basis."
Behrmann and Levant are the last pieces in the puzzle that Duvenhage feels has so much potential. Behrmann, who was one of the top high school players in Indiana prior to a injury in 1996, has impressed Duvenhage.
"Matt is potentially capable of following in the footsteps of O'Neal, Morrison and Overholser. He is that talented," says Duvenhage. "Time will tell whether he has the same kind of attitude and work ethic, and just how well he adjusts to playing college tennis. He could be a very, very good tennis player."
Levant, a left-hander from France, has been ranked in the Top 15 in juniors in the world. He will join the team beginning with the spring season.
"I really can't wait for him to be able to practice and compete," says Duvenhage. "He is a very resilient individual and I have no doubt that he is going to contribute to our program immensely."
As usual, the schedule will be one of the nation's most difficult. In the final fall rankings, all 12 SEC schools were ranked in the Top 39 in the country, including five among the nation's top nine teams.
"After 11 years I know that the league will be brutal as usual," says Duvenhage. "We just have to be ready for that again. We are going to play the best and in the process get ready to beat the best."