Although they are back-to-back SEC champions, the Mississippi State University Men’s Tennis Team is not letting the success go to their heads.
“Having those SEC championships are great for the Mississippi State tennis culture but it’s a whole new slate for these guys—back to work from the beginning of the process,” Head Coach Matt Roberts said.
So far, four wins have been marked on the new slate with victories against Tennessee Tech University (x2), Samford University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham this weekend in Starkville.
According to Roberts, his team is focusing on what they have always focused on—doing the small things right and just playing every point as hard as they can, win or lose.
“It’s all about controlling what you can control with your thoughts, and how you play your points and not thinking about ‘I should win’ or ‘we should win’ because if we do that it’s going to add pressure,” Roberts said.
MSU’s first match of the weekend, played on Saturday in McCarthy Gymnasium due to inclement weather, was against Tennessee Tech and resulted in the Bulldogs’ 24th straight home victory and 16th straight season opener victory.
Saturday evening, the Bulldogs increased their home win streak to 25 with a win against Samford. Nicolas Ocana, a freshman from Montreal, Canada, secured both matches by his victories in singles play.
Davide Tortora, a freshman from Verona, Italy, had the first dual match victory of his career against Tennessee Tech.
Sunday morning, MSU took on Tennessee Tech again, pulling out a win after a two-point comeback by Tech which also happened during Saturday’s match between the two teams.
During their last game of the weekend, there was no comeback on the horizon for UAB as MSU swept the Blazers with a clean 7-0 win.
Even with last year’s loss of the “Fantastic Four”—seniors Nuno Borges, Trevor Foshey, Niclas Braun and Strahinja Rakic—Roberts said the team, though lacking experience, is as strong as ever.
“We know we have another really good team, we feel very confident in our team, we just don’t have any matches under our belt,” Roberts said.
Roberts said the new players have so far been a great fit in many ways for the MSU tennis program.
“I’d say we have the pieces of the puzzle just like we had the past few years to continue the special culture here, and everyone’s fitting in great and we haven’t missed a beat with how we are as a team,” Roberts said.
Roberts said the new players will need to learn how to deal with all the situations and distractions thrown at them in collegiate play as well as learn how to master the mental game of tennis. Several younger players had to be pulled from the lineup in the first match, something Roberts said lets them feel the pressure and rise to the challenge.
Giovanni Oradini, a senior from Rovereto, Italy, made quick work of his first match with Tennessee Tech, with two 6-2 wins.
Although he is now taking over the role of seniority and leadership for the team, Oradini said he will keep doing what he has always done.
“Just working on what I’ve been working on and keep doing my things—I know I am the older guy now but we’ll just keep working together like we always do,” Oradini said.
Roberts said Oradini, currently ranked 15th in the nation, is having to step up in many ways.
“When he knows he could be one of the best players in the country, that comes with a lot of expectations and responsibilities, so he’s going to have to work hard to get to that because he is one of the best players in the nation,” Roberts said.
If all goes well, Saturday will be the last day the tennis team competes in the McCarthy Gymnasium, as a new $8 million indoor tennis pavilion is slated to be completed for next year’s spring tennis season.
With six courts, a Daktronics scoreboard system, LED lighting, PlaySight Live video streaming capabilities as well as several other features, the new pavilion will be a welcome relief to McCarthy’s two courts, non-functioning scoreboard and non-functioning bathrooms.
“Hopefully this will be the last day we’re in here in a competitive environment,” Roberts said.
Next Saturday, the Bulldogs will travel to Tallahassee to take on Florida State University.
Roberts, hopeful for the upcoming season but taking it one day at a time, said his team is off to a good start.
“Overall, it’s a good start,” Roberts said. “Let’s keep it rolling and keep getting better.”