“Talking Tennis” is a column by Nick Kaufmann about tennis.
The newest trend in the tennis world is having professionals create their own “perfect player” by combining the strengths of various players. This past Friday, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic built their perfect players on Instagram Live. In a similar fashion, this column will focus on constructing the perfect USC tennis player.
I’ve set two criteria for this challenge: each player must be a current USC tennis athlete and can only be used once in this list. The seven categories are serve, return, forehand, backhand, volley, mentality and physical gifts. The end product will be the perfect USC tennis player.
Serve: Senior Riley Smith
Listed at 6-feet-7-inches tall, Smith has the size of a powerful server. However, he does not just rely on natural ability, as few tennis players have the level of command that he does.
Smith is able to hit every spot in the service box however he wants. When he wants to serve flat and big, he is lethal, but perhaps his most difficult serve to return is his kick serve out wide on the ad side. He gets so much spin on this serve that by the time his opponent tries to return it, they are usually hitting the ball from at or above their head.
Return: Sophomore Mor Bulis
This spot could have been given to any number of players, but Bulis takes it because of his smooth swing. His strokes are very easy which make them perfect for returns; he simply does a split step and turn and lets the racket do the rest.
This smooth and easy return style is the ideal way to hit, and the technique has come up big for Bulis at times, including the match he clinched last season at No. 3 Texas. His simplicity on the return is what edged him into this spot.
Forehand: Freshman Stefan Dostanic
Don’t let his youth fool you: Dostanic has a massive forehand. He takes heavy cuts at the ball that produces power unmatched by any of his teammates. He possesses the quintessential modern forehand; every time the ball leaves his racket, it is a heavy, penetrating ball.
When Dostanic winds up for a forehand, you know it’s going to be an absolute bomb. His forehand looks eerily similar to current world No. 3 Dominic Thiem’s forehand.
Backhand: Junior Daniel Cukierman
The top-ranked player in college tennis gets the nod for his backhand, which is one of the most consistent shots on the team. Cukierman has a clean and simple stroke but is able to generate a lot of racket head speed to produce a deep and consistent backhand. This shot is so strong for him that you will often see him opt to hit it instead of a forehand. Cukierman’s ability to rip a winner off the backhand wing from anywhere on the court is part of what makes him one of the nation’s best.
Volley: Sophomore Bradley Frye
After not starting for most of his freshman season, Frye has come on strong as a sophomore, especially in doubles. He has quick hands at the net and is able to punch the ball away or delicately feather it into open space.
The most prominent example of this came in his match against Oregon in February. In a tiebreaker to clinch the doubles point, Frye pulled out a deft drop volley that just barely dribbled over the net into the open court to win the point.
Although most USC players could have made this list as they are all strong at the net and in doubles, Frye has shown he’s fit for this slot.
Mentality: Senior Brandon Holt
As the top singles player on the team and one of USC’s most successful players in recent memory, Holt is mentally strong. Regardless of what point it is in the match, he always maintains the same steady demeanor. Whether he is winning or losing, he is always even-keeled and never looks like he is struggling mentally. This is a vital quality to have for a player and has played a big part in Holt’s success, allowing him to clinch two matches this past season.
Physical Gifts: Sophomore Jake Sands
Sands moves around the court very quickly and has a physical forehand. This type of physicality has allowed him to come up with some memorable moments in his career, most prominently when he clinched the Pac-12 Championship over Cal last season. His movement and overall physical style of play make him the ideal selection.
“Talking Tennis” runs every other Tuesday.