Saturday night was quite an event in the Fort. Not only did TCU men’s basketball knock off the ninth-ranked Red Raiders — almost assuring them an NCAA tournament berth — but TCU Men’s Tennis was honored for winning their first national championship.
David Roditi’s Racquet Frogs are no strangers to success. Now in his 11th year as head coach, the Frog alumnus revived a team that had slumped after years of success since its creation in 1974 under another Former frog player, Tut Bartzen. After establishing his own recruits and knocking the dust off, Roditi has made TCU a consistent contender, finishing six consecutive seasons ranked in the Top 10 at the conclusion of the outdoor season and advancing multiple times to the round of 16 in their NCAA tournament and as far as the Final Four in 2015.
Outdoor season, which is what fans are most familiar with, starts on Wednesday, when the Frogs host the Michigan Wolverines on the purple courts. Those Wolverines will be hoping to pull an upset over the top-ranked team in the country. The Frogs hopped themselves to the ultimate ranking after mowing down their competition to conclude the indoor tennis season at the beginning of last week. The ITA indoor national championship at the University of Washington featured purple victories over Virginia, Texas, Ohio State, and Tennessee, in that order. Sports superstitions would kill me for saying this, but this squad seems different. They seemed destined for another championship.
Tennis fans are accustomed to notable names from TCU. Cameron Norrie, a South African who graduated in 2017, lost in the championship match of the Mexican Open over the weekend and was the top-ranked singles player in the country his senior season. Norrie has been ranked as high as 12th in the world during his already successful professional career. Alastair Gray — a British player who went pro after last season — is already vaulting himself into the professional rankings and advanced into the second round of Wimbledon’s doubles draw. The aforementioned are great but have been problematic in a team sense in the past. A killer at first-line singles is wonderful, but if the lineup isn’t stout all the way through the sixth man, especially in singles — since those matches represent six of seven possible team points — a program won’t claim a team championship. Obviously, based on the hardware Roditi and company plundered from Seattle, that has changed a bit.
The Frogs are very deserving of their No. 1 ranking. They’ve already unseated two teams from the spot they now possess: Florida, the defending outdoor national champion, when they visited Fort Worth in mid-January, and Ohio State, who the Frogs defeated in the ITA indoor championship semifinals. In fact, these tennis ballers are currently 12-1 and have lost only to Tennessee — by one point — about 36 hours after their emotional win against Florida. TCU avenged that loss, with a vengeance, by beating the Rocky Toppers 4-1 during the national championship match.
Roditi turbocharged his roster, which was already bullish, and made it overpowering. His first move was adding two graduate transfers. Tim Ruehl, a German former Sun Devil, is a fierce doubles specialist who helped ASU secure their only point against TCU in last year’s tournament at first-line doubles over a talented pair in Alastair Gray and current stud Frog Luc Fomba. Ruehl was also beating Sander Jong, current Big 12 player of the week and recipient of the Indoor Championship MVP, when their Line 3 singles match was left unfinished last year.
Juan Carlos Aguilar, a native Bolivian and consistent first-line player for the Aggies, was also no stranger to the Frogs before matriculating to Fort Worth. Aguilar also helped himself to a first-line doubles victory over Gray and Fomba during the regular season last year and bested Fomba at second-line singles (something that doesn’t happen very often).
The additions of Ruehl and Aguilar are perfectly demonstrative of what an opportunistic recruiter Roditi has become. Fomba, Aguilar, and Jake Fearnley are all currently ranked in the Top 25 in the nation in singles, but there’s more. Young blood has been injected into Funkytown, and they have driven and volleyed their way to the third-ranked doubles pair in the nation. The freshman duo of Englishman Lui Maxted and Spaniard Pedro Vives have lost only one match this year and are still learning amid the collegiate tennis landscape. The Scottish sophomore Fearnley and his junior French counterpart Fomba aren’t far behind the youngsters and are ranked fifth in doubles.
There’s no shy way to assert this, but it’s championship or bust for this ridiculously stacked roster that spans from young acquisitions and multi-year lettermen all the way to seasoned graduate transfers. The Frogs have already outlasted the past two defending champions in Florida and Texas, and onlookers should eagerly await conference clashes with Baylor — who lost to the Gators in the outdoor finals last season — and a rematch with the Longhorns, as both rosters are likely to be Top-10 ranked throughout the season.
It shouldn’t be hard to attract feisty Frog fans to the Bayard H. Friedman Tennis Center to throw spirited clapping to the top-ranked baseliners in the nation, as admission to their matches is cheaper than anything else you can do on TCU’s campus — it’s zero dollars.