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Youthful men’s tennis squad ready for latter stages of conference play

first_imgSitting at sixth place in the Big Ten standings, the Badgers are hoping to improve their position before conference tournament time.[/media-credit]The men’s tennis team is off to a strong start this spring, and with some Big Ten matches coming up at home, there’s plenty more to be optimistic about.That said, head coach Greg Van Emburgh is preparing for a challenge.“I think the conference has gotten a lot stronger, and I think every match we have to make sure we are really mentally focused and prepared for a really tough battle,” Van Emburgh said.Despite some early success, being ranked No. 6 in the Big Ten, the team is still embracing the one match at a time mentality. Van Emburgh feels every team in the conference is solid right now, and it’s important to not dismiss any opponent.“We are not overlooking anybody, and we really want to take one match at a time,” Van Emburgh said.The Badgers are preparing for a stretch of home matches starting this weekend against Purdue and Indiana. The players continue to play with confidence and passion, leaving a great impression on Van Emburgh.“We have to be ready to go on Friday and really play with a lot of belief and heart like we have been, and I feel good about this team in the long term,” Van Emburgh said.Getting the most out of practices and match play experiences has proven successful for this young tennis team so far, and Van Emburgh has seen his team progress.“We have been improving over the season, and I think we are still improving,” Van Emburgh said. “We are a young group and we are getting better with every match.”Although the wins have been something to celebrate, the team has done a great job of learning from the losses as well.Instead of dwelling on mistakes, the Badgers have been making the most of them in 2011.“We have tried to work on things in practice, we have tried to tweak little things that guys need tweaking with their game,” Van Emburgh said.Doubles play, Marek Michalika’s leadership proves beneficialThe Badgers have recently been emerging as a doubles team power as well, which can be a major element of finishing strong with a win.“Doubles is an important component of winning these matches,” Van Emburgh said. “Doubles is a big thing of communication and how well teams gel together, and I think we have a good formula right now.”Evaluating different combinations of duos was the first step in looking to learn what the best options for the team were for winning the doubles point. Settling on No. 78-ranked duo Michalicka and Billy Bertha wasn’t a tough decision. They have a great chemistry together, have shown some early success and look to continually better their play.“I think we have just been meshing well together, we get along well together and it’s translated into doubles play,” Bertha said.With an overall record of 12-3 (11-3 in the No. 1 doubles position) Michalicka and Bertha are focused on beating some of the top teams in the Big Ten, like No. 3 Ohio State, No. 27 Indiana and No. 64 Purdue in the spring season.They feel confident in their abilities to achieve victory and they’ve developed a knowledge for each other’s strengths and weaknesses.“[Michalicka] plays good, he plays a lot of smart shots, and I do a lot of the movement out there,” Bertha said.The Badgers are returning this season with some great veteran leadership in Bertha and Michalicka, as well as Ricardo Martin – all of whom played in last year’s NCAA championship round of 16. Reaching the NCAAs this year is just as important for them, and they hope to be able to share that experience with the younger players on the team.Michalicka has emerged this year as the team’s sole captain, after splitting those duties with fellow teammates last year. His extraordinary senior leadership on and off the court has proven a valuable asset for the success of this year’s team.“He is every coach’s dream, he is a great tennis player, he is a great competitor, he is a great student athlete, he is just an unbelievable ambassador to have as part of your program,” Van Emburgh said.last_img read more

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How injuries shaped Gabriela Knutson’s backhand, her ‘best shot’

first_img Comments Published on April 22, 2019 at 8:44 pm Contact Andrew: arcrane@syr.edu | @CraneAndrew Gabriela Knutson shook her right hand repeatedly and sat down. At the end of her last two rallies in a March 31 singles match, two forehand shots had sailed into the net. During the changeover, Knutson went to her bench and mouthed “Ow.” She had cocked her racket back and stepped forward to meet the balls in front of her, but never finished her arm’s rotation. Knutson’s right arm ached after the repeated stresses of one-handed forehands, and she needed her backhand to save the match. “My backhand was always my shot, always will be,” Knutson said. “That’s the thing I go to.”Despite Knutson’s loss, her backhand shot helped mitigate her right arm pain. As a child, Knutson immediately favored the backhand and it soon became her “best shot,” she said. When injuries arose from a new forehand technique Knutson learned as a teenager, her backhand became a specialty. As Knutson’s final season with No. 30 Syracuse (13-12, 5-9 Atlantic Coast) winds down, Knutson has used the shot to not only rejuvenate a tennis career that almost ended before college, but also become the top tennis player for SU. “It’s not like someday I’m going to wake up and my forehand is going to be better than my backhand,” Knutson said. “No matter how much I practice, that’s never going to happen.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe first time Knutson felt initial pain in her right arm was two days after she returned to the Czech Republic. She was 16 and for the previous month, Knutson worked on her forehand in Miami with one of her mother’s friends, her mother, Ilona Knutson, said. As her tennis career progressed, Ilona changed Knutson’s forehand grip and motion. While in Miami, Knutson used more wrist motion and exaggerated the finishing turn.Her first day home, Knutson was ecstatic. “My forehand is much better,” she told her mother. Ilona agreed. But that next day, Knutson complained about right wrist pain. On the third day, it throbbed again and got even worse as the days went by. Knutson “couldn’t even lift a cup of tea,” Ilona said.Knutson’s muscles hadn’t developed enough for her new form. She quit for a brief time to let her arm heal and became out of shape, Ilona said. It wasn’t the first time — or the last — that an arm injury hindered Knutson. When she was eight, she had her first. Last semester was her third.“If you see a tennis player’s back, it’s always a little lopsided,” Knutson said, slanting her right shoulder up. “(Tennis players) are very prone to right-hand injuries, especially me. I don’t know why.”Susie Teuscher | Digital Design EditorWhen she resumed play, Knutson relied almost exclusively on her backhand for six months. Occasionally, she mixed in a left-handed forehand shot, but it felt unnatural. If Knutson wanted a chance at college and professional tennis, her forehand form was key, and she would have to use the motion more.That pain didn’t return during her first three years at SU, at least not to a comparable level, Knutson said. Her forehand shot improved and she began to mix it in more, but Knutson always set up her backhand when possible. That combination helped her rise to No. 4 in the nation as a junior. Now, Knutson takes an extra step to drop back and execute fading backhand defensive lobs, net-grazing crosscourt winners and short-hopping service returns that help earn points. “She does take the ball very early, and she’s strong too,” Limam said, “so she generates a lot of pace and power of her backhand shot.”One week after Knutson resorted to her backhand against NC State, she followed Miami’s Estela Perez-Somarriba’s shot into the left corner. Knutson fired a crosscourt backhand while facing match point. The deep ball was returned high in the air by Perez-Somarriba, and this time, Knutson waited patiently at the net and volleyed a winner. The SU senior turned and strolled back to the service line, and grimaced as she awaited her next shot. The pain in her forearm forced her to repeatedly shake her hand, but her favorite shot again kept her in it.“If she gets to a backhand rally,” Ilona said, “I know it’s going to be good.”center_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more