By Dan Johnson
ITA Director of Communications & Marketing
TEMPE, Ariz. – The moment finally arrived for Arizona State Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson.
After announcing the reinstatement of the men’s tennis program in May of 2016, thanks in large part to the $1M personal donation from Anderson and his wife, Buffie, the nearly two-year wait for the program’s first foray into dual match competition in a decade came to an end on Saturday, January 13, 2018.
“I lost a lot of sleep last night with the excitement of knowing that we were going to re-launch men’s tennis (Saturday) and I’m so grateful to the community for responding and to (Dr. Michael Crow, ASU President) for giving us the leeway to exercise what we think is good judgement in terms of building a program back up. Personally, me and Buffie are so into tennis, so it’s a proud day for all us.”
With nary a cloud in the sky, the sun shone brightly on the courts at Whiteman Tennis Center, illuminating the action taking place between Arizona State and its invited guests – and opponents – the No. 25-ranked Duke Blue Devils.
Having Duke be the first opponent for Arizona State was a “full-circle” moment for the ASU program, as back in 2008, the Sun Devils played and lost to the Blue Devils in the NCAA Tournament. It would be their last match until Anderson undertook the challenge of resurrecting the program.
“This isn’t how we’d normally start our spring season, but I got a call from Matt a year-and-a-half ago and we talked about putting something really cool together,” said Ramsey Smith, Duke men’s tennis head coach. “With the history between the two programs, we thought it’d be a great opportunity to come out (to Arizona) and help kick off the return of the ASU program with a heck of a match.”
Like in 2008, Duke would once again get the better of Arizona State on January 13, earning a 5-2 decision. The Blue Devils raced out to a 1-0 lead by taking two of three doubles matches, and then settled into a nice rhythm in singles, buoyed by the strong play at the No. 1 line from 48th-ranked Nicolas Alvarez, who if he maintains his health, figures to be one of the nation’s premier singles players. Alvarez, playing in his first dual match since 2016, topped No. 51 Michael Geerts in a competitive three-setter, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Although Duke emerged victorious, all of college tennis wound up winning on Saturday with the triumphant return of Arizona State men’s tennis.
“It’s a great day for college tennis to have the ASU men’s tennis team back,” said ITA Chief Executive Officer Timothy Russell. “There’s a great sense of history here. Tennis is a spot rooted in history, and I really applaud Matt Hill (ASU men’s tennis head coach) for connecting those dots, but also thank Ramsey Smith (Duke men’s tennis head coach) and Duke for being a part of history. And, if we’re thinking about a lot of history, Stan Smith is here as well. He’s one of the greatest figures in tennis, not just college tennis.
“Stan was one of the last two college graduates to win a Grand Slam, is the father of Ramsey, and he’s very well-connected with the ITA. The whole Smith family endowed our Achievement Award (the ITA David A Benjamin Achievement Award) and they’ve been great friends of the ITA and college tennis, so to connect all of those dots on one day is amazing.”
For Hill, he was excited for the match with Duke, and Texas A&M on Sunday, and saw both as a way to gauge where his first ASU team is at early in the season.
“We believe in playing the best teams in the country, and that it’s the best thing for our guys,” said Hill. “Long-term and short-term. I think philosophically, starting off the season against teams that can go deep in the NCAA Tournament, gives us a chance to see where we’re at and where we may need to improve.”