FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Coming off its best season since 1991, the Razorback tennis team hopes to continue its success in a pair of individual draw tournaments this weekend.
The Razorbacks open their 2001-02 campaign with some players participating in the East Tennessee Clay Courts and others in the Wichita State. Both tournaments run Sept. 7-9.
Entering his 15th year at the reins of the Arkansas tennis program, Robert Cox leads a veteran squad with only three underclassmen into the battlefields of the toughest league in the country. In fact, “tennis is by far the toughest of all the sports in the SEC,” says Cox. Last year the Razorbacks finished ninth in the SEC but held a No. 25 Intercollegiate Tennis Association national ranking. Cox believes a .500 record this year in SEC play would allow the Hogs to garner a top 15 ranking.
The Hogs are coming off their best season in 10 years after going 16-10 and reaching the NCAA Tournament regional finals before losing, 4-3, to SMU in Dallas. They are looking to continue the progress they’ve made. With the departure of the Hogs’ top two players from last year’s squad, including the No. 1 player in the country from mid-February until the first part of April of last season, Oskar Johansson, most would think this is a rebuilding year, but that may not be the case.
“This year’s team is very deep,” says Cox. “Depth and experience will be our strength this season.”
Senior Oggie Kolev, who transferred from Drake University after the 1999-2000 season, finished his first season for the Razorbacks last year with a singles record of 26-12. Ranked 25th in the ITA’s Region VI, he will be called upon to fill the top position for the Hogs.
“Oggie is a logical choice,” Cox says. “He should be able to step right in and be able to handle the top spot.”
Nathan Price, a transfer from Texas A&M, begins his first year for the Razorbacks. The sophomore went 15-2 last year for the Aggies, who were ranked in the top 10.
“We are very fortunate to have him here on campus,” says Cox. “He should push Oggie and make everybody else better.”
Junior Aleksey Bubis, from Palm Harbor, Fla., will also be called upon to deliver after going 25-10. Cox feels he will step-in and add a punch to the lineup.
“He had a very good record last year,” says Cox. “We are really pleased with his progress.”
Kolev and Bubis are two of four returnees who recorded 20 victories last year. Seniors Tiago Azevedo and Magnus Kullenberg are back after going 20-13 and 21-15, respectively. Another returnee, junior Eduardo Pacheco, was 12-7.
Newcomer Oscar Ohlsson from Sweden brings a top 20 junior ranking. “He is very capable of stepping in this year for us,” says Cox.
With Kolev expected to fill the No. 1 position, the other seven spots are up for grabs. In fact, Cox feels the two through eight spots are going to be solid for the Hogs and could be interchangeable because of depth. The eight traveling spots will be filled based on the performances during the fall season.
In doubles, two of the team’s top tandems are back. Bubis and Kolev were 12-6 a year ago while Azevedo and Kullenberg were 9-4.
“I am really excited about this year,” says Cox. “We are proud to be back in the top 25.”
In fact, the only team other than men and women’s track to finish last year ranked in the top 25 is the men’s tennis program. Through regained confidence, depth and experience, this year’s squad could finish among the nation’s best two years in a row.