[HT: 25DaW for this much needed good news. Tennis, y'all.]
That's right. In the form of SEC Indoor individual competitions, tennis season has made its long-awaited return for a Rebel fanbase so direly in need of success of any kind. I know the question that most of our fanbase asks about our tennis team is "Just how good are we?" Though I haven't seen us play this year and I generally take the results of preseason indoor competitions with a handful of grains of salt*, I'm happy to say that we should return to our proper place competing for the SEC title after a season plagued by unfortunate circumstances.
The biggest addition to the team is big-serving South African Nik Scholtz, who was on campus last year but wasn't cleared by the NCAA to play. Scholtz's run to the semifinals of the singles competition this weekend included a win over Kentucky's No. 2 player. He looks to leap right to the top of the line-up and play No. 1 singles for us. Therein lies his value: This allows Marcel to play No. 2 and prevents everyone else from having to scoot up a spot after Tucker's graduation. I expect Nik to be a solid No. 1 this year, but the top spot in an SEC schedule is not an easy place to be.
Moving down the lineup highlights the strength of our team this year. After squaring off against every team's best player for two seasons, Marcel could have a great year on court 2. Depending on Nik's form early in the season, we could see those two roles interchanged, but I think both options leave us in a good position.
Jonas Lutjen, the junior German of the team, should stay in the third slot, and I look for him to have a huge year. Since he came to Oxford two years ago, his potential has been clear---and a win over Kentucky's No.1 player (also the third ranked player in the NCAA) this weekend further illustrates this. He hits blistering ground strokes but has lacked a bit of consistency in the past.
The bottom half of the lineup is difficult to order, but in any order we should have the advantage over almost every team we play. The four players in the middle of this battle are Christoph Thiemann, Johan Backstrom, Adrian Forberg Skogeng, and newcomer William Kallberg of Sweden. I would surmise that Chris will continue to hold down court 4, followed by Kallberg and Backstrom.
The biggest uncertainty, of course, is the freshman Kallberg, whom I have not seen play. He took down the top seed and Georgia's No. 1 Wil Spencer this weekend, so he could easily come in with guns blazing. If he justifies a move to the fourth spot, I'd love to see Christoph slide down and dominate court 5 for us.
How could I wait this long to mention doubles? I'll take the twins on court 1, Lutjen/Scholtz on 2, and maybe Kallberg/Backstrom on 3. Any combination of our 6'3"+, big-serivng Europeans should do the trick. I feel quite confident that we'll enter singles with a point advantage as often as we want.
I am considering doing a post later to preview the SEC, but here's a summary. We won't lose to any teams in the West, including defending Western Division champs MSU (a phrase somehow simultaneously humorous and taking-a-cowbell-to-the-kneecaps painful). The East looks to have a shift in power with Tennessee losing practically its whole team. Kentucky is prime to have a huge year and could win the regular season East title, but I think Manny Diaz will have Georgia peaking in the postseason yet again. And Vandy has the talent to make some noise, but I'd be surprised if they keep up with the best in the SEC over the course of the season.
*SEC Indoors were held this weekend in Lexington, and only seven schools brought players (the hosts UK, UGA, Vandy, Florida, USC, Bama, and Ole Miss). This---combined with the differences of playing indoors and having two matches a day as opposed to two matches a weekend---is why I try not to read too much into the results. Brackets for SEC Indoors are here.