The rise of the Internet has brought more than just world-wide interaction; it has also brought the world together to compete in collegiate tennis throughout the United States.
“Before the Internet and social media, you had limited access to see players around the world,” BYU coach Brad Pearce said. “Now, I get emails from young men all over the states and all over the world. I can see how they have done in competitions, see their rankings and then watch them play on YouTube.”
Pearce said in the past BYU did not openly recruit players from around the world. But despite that, they have typically had several players from foreign countries on the roster. International players look for certain criteria when searching for a school to play for. Some of those criteria deal with college ranking and the academic standard the school upholds.
“Historically we have always had a few foreigners,” Pearce said. “Right now we are at a position in our program where there has been an increase. We are looking for the best players who are willing to come and keep our standards. As our ranking improves we will get more and more interest from better and better players.”
Currently the team has several players from various parts of the world: Georgy Batrakov, from Yaroslavl, Russia; Francis Sargeant, from Beckenham, United Kingdom; and Dean Ormsby, from Sippy Downs, Australia.
This year Batrakov entered his fourth year of playing for BYU, and after reaching the final 16 of the All-American Championships, he goes into the next tournament as the No. 1 seed. Despite the fact he has earned the ranking, he keeps it in perceptive knowing he still needs to compete to remain on top.
“It feels pretty good to be the No. 1 seed,” Batrakov said, “but it isn’t anything special. It’s still just a number. Being from Russia I feel the competition is tougher here. We play all the time, and just like everyone else, we have been improving.”
Sargeant, a newcomer to the BYU program, shared similar feelings to his teammate that having the title of being a foreign player does not set you any higher than players in the states.
“The tennis game itself is different here,” Sargeant said. “I’m going to have to adjust my game in order to win matches, but there are a lot of foreigners in college tennis and for me, the foreign factor doesn’t mean anything. You play the person who is on the other side of the net.”
Batrakov and Sargeant represent two of nine players who will compete in the USTA/ITA Regional Championships in Las Vegas beginning today. The winners of the doubles and singles brackets will earn a berth in the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships in Flushing, N.Y., early next month. The indoor championships is considered by Pearce one of the biggest tournaments in college tennis.
“The grand slams of college tennis are the All-American Championships, the National Indoors and the NCAA Championships,” Pearce said. “This regional is a qualifying event for individuals for the National Indoors. It is also a great opportunity to make progress toward becoming an All-American.”
Last year, BYU’s Thomas Shubert and Spencer Smith claimed that right of representing the Mountain Region in the National Indoor Championships by winning the doubles tournament. To win the championship, the duo defeated teammates Patrick Kawka and Evan Urbina in a 9-7 victory. Pearce remembered the match as being unbelievable.
In addition to Batrakov’s No. 1 ranking, several other Cougars join him with rankings of their own: Smith at No. 6, Kawka at No. 10 and Keaton Cullimore at No. 25.
Batrakov teams up with Kawka at No. 3 in the doubles tournament with Sargeant and Smith at No. 10.
“We have good players this year,” Batrakov said, “so I feel all the players have a chance to win the tournament.”