Bryan Koniecko, a senior from Long Island, N.Y., was named the preseason No. 1 singles player in the ITA Division I rankings Jan. 6 after taking home titles at both the 2008 ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships and the Wilson/ITA Midwest Regional. In three seasons with the Buckeyes, Koniecko is a two-time ITA All-American (2007, 2008), three-time All-Big Ten (2006, 2007, 2008), 2008 Big Ten Athlete of the Year, 2008 ITA Region IV Player to Watch and 2006 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Last year, Koniecko posted a 34-9 record in singles and a 36-6 mark in doubles. He recently took time from his busy schedule to answer some questions for USTA.com.
USTA.com: You had a great summer playing the USTA Pro Circuit and playing in the US Open qualifying. What did you learn from that experience?
Bryan Koniecko: Playing the Pro Circuit over the summer and especially the US Open qualifying is obviously a great experience. You don’t get to play with the top guys in the world every day, so it’s great competition. It’s also very convenient because most of the futures that I played are all in the Midwest, so you don’t have to travel very often. Doing well in those types of events gives me some confidence when I go out and travel next year and play the Pro Circuit.
USTA.com: Did you ever think about going pro right from juniors, or did you always know you wanted to go to college?
Bryan Koniecko: Playing professionally was always something I wanted to do since I was young, but I knew that I wasn’t ready to play straight after high school. I wasn’t nearly as physically fit as I wanted to be, and I knew that it would take me a couple years to reach my full potential physically. So coming to Ohio State I knew I would get on a program that would get me stronger and eventually help me get to the next level. I also always wanted to have a great college experience, and I am glad I made the decision to come to Ohio State University.
USTA.com: With an ITA National Indoor singles title under your belt and as the top-ranked singles player in the Jan. 6 ITA National Singles Rankings, everyone will be gunning for you this spring. How do you deal with the pressure?
Bryan Koniecko: Obviously, there is some pressure being at the top of the rankings because players don’t have much to lose when they play you, but at the end of the day you have to go out and play your game. You can’t think about rankings when you are out on the court but focus on the game plan you came out with and try to execute it. The level is so close at the top spots in college tennis, so you have to treat every opponent the same.
USTA.com: What is a typical day like for you? Practice schedule, strength and conditioning, classes?
Bryan Koniecko: I have class in the morning starting around 9:30 a.m. till about 12 p.m. Then we have practice as a team at 12:45 p.m. till about 3:30 every day and weights and conditioning at 4 p.m. 2-3 times a week, depending if we have matches over the weekend. Twice a week, I have class at night around 5:30 p.m. and kind of just rest and hang with my friends and teammates in the evenings. So it tends to be a pretty long day.
USTA.com: What’s the best thing about college tennis and about being a Buckeye?
Bryan Koniecko: The best thing about college tennis is that you play as a team. It’s great having support every day in practice and during matches. It’s just a totally different experience playing as a team, and there is a different type of pressure involved, too, because not only are you letting yourself down if you lose but the team and everyone involved with the team. But playing for the Buckeyes is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I will definitely miss it once it’s all done.
USTA.com: What are your goals for yourself and for your team this season?
Bryan Koniecko: My individual goals are to keep trying to improve while I’m still at college and obviously try to win the NCAA singles title at the end of the year. Winning the NCAA could give me a US Open main-draw berth, and that would be exciting, being from New York and all. More importantly, I want to win the NCAA title as a team and finish No. 1. Since I was a freshman, we have had top-5 teams, and due to some bad luck and a couple injuries, we missed our opportunity in going to the finals of the NCAA tournament. But as a senior and a captain, winning the NCAA as a team would just be an amazing finish to a great four years.
USTA.com: Being in the Midwest, you play a high percentage of your matches indoors. How difficult is the transition outside at the end of the spring? Any tips for those who struggle with going from indoors to outdoors?
Bryan Koniecko: Yes, it’s obviously a big difference with indoor and outdoor tennis. It’s a tough transition when you are in Ohio and have to go to California or Texas to play outdoors. I try to play a little higher percentage and move more outdoors because of the many factors that aren’t involved in indoor tennis.
USTA.com: There are a lot of great rivalries in the Big Ten. Which match do you look forward to the most?
Bryan Koniecko: Playing Illinois is always a big deal because since I have been here we have always played for the Big Ten title. Also, we look forward to playing Michigan because of the obvious Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.
USTA.com: What players did you look up to growing up? Or pattern your game after?
Bryan Koniecko: I’d have to say Agassi. I always liked how aggressive he plays and doesn’t care about who’s on the other side of the net. Since I was young, I watched him play a lot and always kind of tried to model my game similar to his.
USTA.com: What advice do you have for junior tennis players who want to play in college?
Bryan Koniecko: I definitely think it’s a great idea. It is nice to experience tennis being played as a team, and getting to travel the country to different schools is awesome. You learn how to play as a team. Sometimes it is easy to get selfish, especially for a tennis player because it is an individual sport, but being part of a team you definitely learn many things – not only in tennis but as a person, too.