By Matt Hill
Back in the early 2000s, I frequently wrote a column on tennis during my two and a half year run at the Star and was able to promote tennis in the region.
After moving away for eight and a half years to further my career, I am now doing sportswriting as a correspondent here at the Star while I pursue a career in broadcasting.
One thing that has not changed in my life is my love for tennis and I pretty much have two passions in life.
One is my love for God and second is my passion for tennis and this sport has given me an opportunity to intertwine the two.
With the support of the man who helped get me started in this business, Jamie Combs, I am debuting a new periodic column called Love-40.
Over the next few months, you will see more on local tennis in the Star as well as commentary on what is going on nationally.
I felt with the collegiate season getting underway and the Australian Open going on, this would be the perfect time to debut this column.
Today we’re going to talk about the upcoming Milligan College season and the Australian Open that is going on down under.
MILLIGAN LOOKING FOR GREAT SEASON IN 2012
Milligan has built a pretty strong women’s program under Ryan Reynolds and that looks to continue in 2012.
“We brought in two new girls who are freshmen who were ranked in the top 12 in Tennessee,” Reynolds said. “They’re going to make good impacts as a freshmen. I’d say we’re just as good this year as we were last year and we’re looking to win the conference for a third-consecutive year.
Milligan has been blessed to have the Kelly sisters, Kayla, Albany and Ahmee will all be in the Milligan lineup. Local product Celeste Carpenter is also a very solid player.
“Every year we’ve been solid one-through-six and if I can keep recruiting at this same level every year that’s where we need to be,” Reynolds said. “I think there a a lot of local players in this region and for some reason we’ve had a little better luck getting girls than getting guys. Maybe every guy inspires to be Division I , but with the girls they just want to play college tennis and they’re able to get there.”
Sara Rainwater is a freshman who was a two-star recruit who had some major offers, but chose Milligan.
The boys team looks very improved from previous years and Reynolds is excited about those prospects.
Sebastian Jonsson is the lone international player from Sweden and he is going to make an instant impact.
Reynolds prefers local and Americans, but he goes through a process on getting international players.
“So many of the international players want a really big scholarship because we’re limited, but I heard about him from an ex-player who played against him. It worked out financially coming here and I get several emails every year about international players and they want it paid for. Being local with the lottery I can give more money to local people and I prefer to have local people, but I’m not opposed to having an international player if they fit into our school and our team and fit Milligan’s values.”
A young man local people might remember is Elizabethton’s Ricky Jones, a former Cyclone standout.
Jones has really improved in several years and is one of the premier players in the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
“He’s a senior and he had a great year and made leaps and bound improvement,” Reynolds said. “He beat Tusculum’s No. 1 player and played a lot of No. 1 players close and I’m hoping this year he will play down to No. 2 or No. 3 and he can pick up some good wins there.”
Reynolds says people who followed Jones in high school would not recognize his game now.
“It is night day how he has improved since high school and he’s always had the potential,” Reynolds said. “He had a lot of tools, he just hadn’t put it together tennis wise until last year.”
Caleb Fridell is also a top-notch player from Chattanooga.
“We’ve changed his game and gotten him away from the baseline and have him coming into the net and he’s really found what works for him.” Reynolds said. “He made a lot of improvements.”
Also on the team are former Johnson County players Wade Tugman and Steven Joiner.
The season began last weekend for the girls and will really get going in February. Play will continue up to the conference tournament in late April.
AUSTRALIAN OPEN THOUGHTS
The first week of the Australian Open is in the books and there was one match that really stood out to me. Guess what? It wasn’t a men’s match.
The Kim Clijsters-Li Na match, won by Clijsters in three sets, was full of drama and to be honest, was a match that should have been won by Li Na.
Li Na dominated the first two sets on Sunday morning, but then she dropped for match points against an injured Clijsters. Clijsters won the second set tiebreak and led 4-0 in the third.
Li Na came back and made a real match of it in the third set, but Clijsters prevailed.
To be honest, the women’s game has really been struggling, especially considering that Caroline Wozniacki ,the No. 1 player in the world in the last year has only made one major final in her career and has never won a major. It was nice to see the women’s game have such an outstanding match in the fourth round of a grand slam.
The other thing I’ve noticed is how the Australian players are getting to play on Rod Laver arena over players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
I understand the Australians are having a great Open, but would Michael Russell be put on Arthur Ashe Stadium during the U.S. Open.
Federer and Nadal both were scheduled to play early round matches on the second-court, a great disrespect to two of the greatest players to ever play the game.
The Australians may care about Jelena Dokic, but nobody else does. The Australian Open is my second-favorite grand slam behind Wimbledon and I really love the tournament, but lets give these legends some respect.