I’m going to do it. Don’t try to stop me. Here goes.
Texas colleges are better at tennis than football.
Wow, it feels like a pair of lead shoulder pads have been lifted off me. Let’s double fault and assert that TCU men’s tennis is the most dominant major-conference sport on campus. Naturally, I’ll drop some Hail Marys to defend a defamation as powerful as declaring God is dead in the middle of a Baptist sermon.
It’s been since 2005 that a Texas university, coincidentally the University of Texas, won a national title in football. More recently, however frustratingly, the Longhorns won the whole shebang in tennis in 2019. Add to this that UT, Baylor, and our home Frogs regularly dot the landscape of the 10 best men’s tennis rosters in the nation, and even Texas A&M threatens that group from time to time.
The NCAA men’s tennis tournament opening regionals start tomorrow (Friday), and there are eight Texas-based universities in the 64-team field, more than any competing state represented. Only 16 total teams received seeding, and the Horns and Horned Frogs are first and second, respectively, on opposite sides of the bracket from each other.
These two conference and in-state rivals have traded throat slices all season long. TCU prevailed during the first and most meaningful matchup thus far, when they blew the Longhorns away in the Windy City 4-0 to repeat as indoor national champions. The Longhorns took revenge of sorts when they beat our Frogs in Fort Worth as the top-ranked Frogs lost their first match of the entire season 1-4 and lost again three weeks later 2-5 in Austin. Coach David Roditi’s men met their Austin antagonists yet again in the finals of the Big 12 conference tournament, where they returned to dominance, winning 4-1 and claiming the trophy and an automatic bid to the tournament, however redundant as they were ranked third in the nation at the time.
The indoor and outdoor seasons conclude for Roditi and company with a combined 22-2 record, both losses against Texas, who are — as of right now — ranked No. 1 in the nation and are the first seed in the tournament, though the teams are a dead heat against each other across the season, with the Frogs winning both neutral-site matches.
Though they didn’t win the Big 12 regular-season title, the defending indoor champs won their third conference championship trophy under Roditi, who has been the man pacing the courts in his signature cowboy hat since 2011. Roditi, an accomplished TCU letterman, is hoping that his boys have the team depth this season to advance far enough to settle their beef with the Bevos, because it would be in the NCAA championship match.
TCU is in a position to cruise all the way to the Elite Eight (quarterfinals), which has proved a sticking point over the last several seasons.
Regionals begin at the TCU tennis center with a Lone Star group of TCU, UTA, SMU, and Texas A&M. The Aggies and Mustangs will play first at 2 p.m. tomorrow (Friday), and the Mavericks and Frogs will follow around 5 p.m. If any of these squads were a worry for Roditi, and they really aren’t, it’s the Ags. The Mavericks, unlike in baseball, have little chance of upsetting their big brothers to the west. TCU and UTA played the outdoor season opener against each other. All matches were allowed to finish (not always the case in collegiate tennis), and the Frogs didn’t drop a single set across all nine matches. The Mustangs are also noncontenders — TCU blanked the Dallasites during the indoor season 5-0 without losing a set in the process. The Methodists haven’t claimed victory over the disciples since 2006 and aren’t likely to advance to Saturday, anyway.
The Aggies present a more significant challenge and are 18th in the current ITA rankings, though they were only a fifth seed in their own conference tournament in which Kentucky notched a narrow victory against Georgia. Tennessee is the other power hitter fighting out of the SEC, and the only reason I mention any of them is because TCU has beaten all three this season. A victory over — presumably — the Aggies on Saturday will bring the Super Regional to Funkytown the following weekend against the other region’s winner, which is being hosted by 15th-seed Mississippi State in Starkville. The Bulldogs were sixth-seeded in their conference tournament behind the Aggies and shouldn’t have the firepower to dispatch the Frogs to an early offseason.
The goal this season is to deliver Roditi’s first outdoor national championship. The Frogs, whose program has existed since 1974, have advanced to the semifinal four times and only once with Roditi at the head. TCU’s record, along with their computer metrics, suggest they possess the star power to do so this season. The tennis world uses something called Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) to rank players based on games and sets won and lost based on opponent by a proprietary computer algorithm that is dynamic and changes over time. Individual players have singles and doubles ratings that contribute to a team rating, which adds the top six players together to determine their score as a group. This might seem hokey, but the rankings are shockingly accurate the majority of the time. Of the top four seeds, TCU’s 81.71 UTR ranking is penultimate, just behind Ohio State’s 81.83. The Horned Frogs are actually ranked slightly ahead of their burnt orange conference counterparts, who the computers notch about a point lower at 80.77, but individual matchups weigh heavily toward the actual outcome of team dual matches. TCU would not meet the third-seeded Buckeyes until the semifinals, but they’ll have to volley through Mississippi State and likely the winner of USC — who TCU blanked earlier in the season — and Michigan, who have lost only to Ohio State and Texas, in the quarterfinals.
Despite their inability to eclipse the final-four hump, Roditi’s racket swingers have proven themselves the most consistent major-sport squad on campus by finishing in the Top 10 final rankings in the last seven consecutive seasons and are the only sport on campus outside of rifle — which competes in an independent non-major conference — to win a national championship of any kind, and they’ve done it twice in as many years. Collegiate tennis may not possess the pomp and circumstance of other sports, but if you want to don your purple Ralph Laurens and watch TCU athletes dominate, this weekend and the next might be your last chance to do so until football kicks off next season.
Baseball is looking precarious at best right now, and unless you’ve planned an early summer vacation to watch TCU’s beach volleyball team — who are also second-ranked and -seeded in their NCAA tournament — compete in Gulf Shores, Alabama, I encourage you to show up for the next two weekends to the Bayard H. Friedman Tennis Center varsity courts and watch TCU steamroll their way to the NCAA quarterfinals.