With nine match-ups against ranked opponents, the now-No. 57 men’s tennis team has found itself the underdog for much of the season. But with an unexpected No. 1 ranking heading into the upcoming Atlantic 10 Championships, the Colonials are the team to beat.
After early-season struggles, GW gradually ascended in the conference rankings, winning 13 of its last 15 matches to end the season. The reward for the turnaround came Tuesday, when the team just barely edged out defending champion No. 50 VCU for the top seed in the tournament.
GW now has its sights set firmly on its likely finals opponent, VCU. Last year, the Colonials missed out on a Championship three-peat, falling to the Rams 4-3 after trailing 0-3 to begin the match.
“I believe the only team that actually constitutes a threat to us is VCU,“ junior Francisco Dias said.
But despite the advantages that come with the No. 1 seed, a ticket to their 4th consecutive finals appearance is hardly punched.
And although GW holds the higher seed, the Rams have the higher national ranking. The Rams totaled two wins against Top 50 competition, including No. 11 Mississippi State – something the Colonials weren’t able to do.
“In the end, I don’t think it [the No. 1 seeding] really plays too big of a difference,” senior Ulrik Thomsen said. “Our goal is to win the tournament, and if we want to win, we’ve got to beat everyone anyways.”
The Colonials will need to make use of their postseason experience and deep roster if they intend to reclaim the title.
Sophomore Danil Zelenkov, the Colonials’ No. 3 player, enters the tournament as the final A-10 Performer of the Week after ending the regular season on a 15-match winning streak in singles.
Senior Viktor Svennson plays at the No. 6 slot for GW, but has been one of the team’s most reliable performers all season. He has amassed a 16-11 record, while winning his last seven singles matches.
“Viktor took his game seriously over the summer and he came in really wanting to have a strong senior year,” head coach Greg Munoz said. “He’s had his best year to date in his four years, and that was unexpected. He’s our ultimate No. 6 player and he’s shown that he can beat nationally ranked players. He certainly has made a difference in strengthening our three doubles teams, but also our lineup.”
Up and down the roster, this GW team has deep postseason experience: Five of the six players have reached the championships, including seniors Svensson and Thomsen, who have been to the finals three times. The lone exception, freshman Julius Tverijonas, is still no stranger to tough competition, with experience on the European professional circuit prior to joining GW.
“We know what the pressures are like and what the expectations are,” Svensson said. “Over the years you gain a lot of maturity. You face a lot of different opponents, and in the end, I think that helps.”
The team will also rely on assistant coach Philippe Oudshoorn. Svensson said that Oudshoorn, a recent student-athlete who competed at the highest collegiate level – twice making it to the NCAA finals with the University of Virginia – has offered his wisdom to the team.
This weekend’s tournament will be the last for Svensson, Thomsen and senior Nikita Fomin, who all played a part in some of the best seasons for the men’s tennis team in recent memory. While the pressure may be on the Colonials to regain the conference title, they are ready to compete.
“This tournament may end up being one of the last events in my career, so there’s a lot of pressure,” Fomin said. “But I think its going to be a great tournament, and for me, it’s going to be a great experience to finish my tennis career on a great note by bringing an A-10 title here.”
The Colonials will begin play in the tournament Friday when they will play the winner of the matchup between No. 8 Dayton and No. 9 Saint Louis at 10 a.m.