The tennis world, for the uninitiated, revolves solely around grand slams and Sunday afternoon singles matches between millionaires with household names like Federer, Williams, Djokovic, and Nadal. For the rabid felt heads, there’s so much more to it. Somewhat quietly last weekend, TCU men’s tennis became the first repeat national team champions in school history when they defended their Intercollegiate Tennis Association indoor title at the University of Illinois.
Coach David Roditi’s court kings are 12-0 this season and have dropped only one indoor match through the last two seasons. Third-ranked when the weekend began, their tournament draw began with a flawless victory against 10th-ranked Baylor, beating their conference rival for the second time this season. The racket Frogs then teed off on 13th-ranked Georgia, winning another perfect match and regaining some Fort Worth dignity from the Bulldogs.
The defending champions’ stiffest test came against their second-ranked semifinal opponent, Kentucky. The Wildcats stole first- and third-line singles victories but didn’t manage any other wins over the Frogs, who advanced through their finals match unscathed against 6th-ranked Texas to raise another trophy.
Aside from defending their title, TCU tennis looks to be in position to push their personal best with the outdoor season approaching. Baylor and Texas are leagues ahead of the rest of the conference, and the Frogs have dropped one total point to the pair through three matches. The 4-2 win over Kentucky is important vindication from last season, when top-ranked TCU lost a nail-biting 4-3 slugfest to the Wildcats in the NCAA quarterfinals. Roditi has moved his squad back to the peak of the rankings after a dominating weekend, with Texas holding the penultimate position.
Roditi dominated offseason recruiting while the Frogs added Jack Pinnington from England, who is considered the most desirable acquisition in collegiate tennis and is still acclimating to the dual-match world as opposed to the tournament circuit, and Sebastian Gorzny out of California, a former junior Wimbledon doubles champion. Despite becoming the first team of repeat champions in Frog history, this group has their sights set on an elusive outdoor title, and they are perhaps more capable than any in the past to achieve it. Not because TCU hasn’t rostered amazing players — Frog alum Cameron Norrie just hoisted the Rio Open trophy after a three-set victory over the second-ranked player in the world — but because this team lineup has a smaller standard deviation between first and sixth line, which is what’s required to win a championship.
Staying with indoor court sports, Jamie Dixon’s ballers have weathered their typical second-half skid. I warned readers this would be the case as point guard Mike Miles and center Eddie Lampkin healed from injuries. After a four-game losing streak, TCU rediscovered their shooting chops and exploded on Oklahoma State as Miles returned to the lineup and aided a charge during which five players finished with double-digit scoring. The Cowboys also suffered at the presence of Miles and Lampkin gracing the same lineup for the first time since the mid-season break. The Frogs dropped close tips against the Bears and Jayhawks — losing by a combined nine points — but have only prevailed against the Cowboys, Mountaineers, and Red Raiders during their second act. Tech, despite suffering an uncharacteristically poor season, has mustered a handful of wins, five to be exact. Dixon’s disciples did manage to outfox the sand people’s late comeback to leave Lubbock with a Frog win for the first time since 2015 on Saturday.
The regular season buzzer is ready to wail, and this week, TCU takes on Big 12 deserters Texas on Wednesday and Oklahoma on Saturday. The Frogs are .500 in conference and tied with Iowa State for fourth, though the Cyclones won both head-to-head tips. The Longhorns charged back from an 18-point deficit the last time these teams met in Austin, but with a tournament invite imminent, it’s difficult to know if Dixon will pull out all the stops or rest his roster in preparation for the tourney. Lampkin’s minutes will be limited, if he plays at all, which he didn’t in Lubbock. I expect Dixon to safeguard the big man’s health and be judicious with Miles, especially on Saturday against the Sooners, who are dead last in the conference.
Aside from the Big 12 tournament, all attention is focused on how to prepare for March Madness. TCU is currently projected as a sixth seed, and that’s not likely to change. Part of their success — despite an average record — is thanks to the fantastically difficult conference in which they play. Even West Virginia, who is knotted in the standings with Tech for second to last, may find themselves as an 11th-seed and fighting for their lives during a play-in game.
TCU men’s basketball is making incredible strides during Dixon’s tenure. The Frogs have been left out of the AP Top 25 only during two out of the 17 polls this season, which were Weeks 3 and 4, when TCU was 26th in both. This level of national recognition is a different universe from the depths the program has seen while playing in Conference USA. It will be difficult not to project momentum to the NCAA tourney based on what happens this week and in the conference tournament, but we might still have to hold our collective noses a bit while the slightly shallow roster continues to rest and heal in preparation for the games that matter most.