Coach Greg Patton
© Boise State
Six of the top American collegians have been selected to represent the United States in the fifth annual Master’U BNP Paribas, an international collegiate competition held Dec. 9-12 in Rouen, France. The event features eight teams composed of college and university players from around the world. The U.S., which defeated France to win the 2009 title, will be competing for the third consecutive year against a talented field that includes teams from Belgium, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and Switzerland.
The 2010 U.S. team is being coached by Greg Patton, head coach of the Boise State University men’s tennis team, who helped lead the U.S. to the 2009 title, and Mark Guilbeau, head women’s tennis coach at the University of Virginia. Coach Patton and Coach Guilbeau will be co-writing a blog for USTA.com during the team's stay in France, with Coach Patton penning the first blog prior to the team's trip overseas.
So far, I know that my bags are packed and that I am raring to go. I also know that Coach Mark Guilbeau (women's coach at the University of Virginia) and I will be in store for the time of our lives coaching the USA Master'U Collegiate Team in Rouen, France.
Even after over 25 years of coaching USA junior and collegiate teams overseas to compete internationally, that magical feeling is still always new, fresh and powerful. It will be exhilirating to coach the American collegiate team in the next eight days, as we have the experience of bringing six of our very finest American collegiate players together and creating a dedicated and determined group of tennis warriors to defend the world championship that we captured last year.
If last year's experience with Coach Michelle Dasso (Illinois), Austin Krajicek (Texas A&M), Steve Johnson (USC), Eric Quigley (Kentucky), Irina Falconi (Georgia Tech), Kristy Frilling (Notre Dame) and Caitlin Whoriskey (Tennessee) is any indication, I know that this year's wealth of American talent will be going on the ride of their lives, with every second being jam-packed full of tennis competition, meeting new players from over the world, and experiencing that heightened sense of living that is born out of competing for one's nation.
Last year, our championship match was a nail-biting thriller over France, in which we overcame a 1-3 deficit to roar back and silence a sold-out (and televised) French crowd by sweeping the women's, men's and mixed doubles matches to defeat the home team (4-3), which was made up of battle-hardened ATP and WTA players. It was like being down by three touchdowns with only one quarter to go in the National Championship Bowl Football Game and coming back to win in the final seconds with awe-inspiring catches of long passes.
When our American squad met at the beginning of the journey last year, the players were mainly collegiate and junior opponents of each other, but with every passing day and match, our team became a family that took care of each other on and off the court with the common goal to win the world championships. They arrived in France as former opponents who became teammates and left as lifelong friends. Traveling abroad as a team will do that for you, and it will be accelerated by having that sweet scent of victory.
The beauty of this year's competition is that we have two of our stalwarts from last year returning -- senior Austin Krajciek from Texas A&M and our come-from-behind star Kristy Frilling from Notre Dame, who clinched the Master'U BNP Paribas Championships with intense and focused play to win the decisive mixed doubles match with Eric Quigley against the French. Kristy didn't need the jet airliner to fly her home, for she was flying high for a long time after her stellar play that captured the throne for us.
The exciting part of this year's competition is that starting tonight (Monday) we discard our collegiate allegiances to form the USA team and enter into an allegiance in which we will be with each other every minute, 24/7 for the next week. International team tennis has an electrifying power to bring players together when they are playing for each other.
I had the privilege of coaching Austin Krajciek and Kristy Frilling last year on our world championship team and have watched and studied our other tremendous male players, Reid Carleton (senior from Duke) and Sekou Bangoura (sophomore from Florida). Reid is presently part of the No. 1 doubles duo in the nation and a semifinalist at the prestigious All-American tournament in October. Sekou is one of the top upcoming young American players, whose youth belies his wily and mature game. Austin (the old man of the group) won the doubles title at the National Indoor Championships in early November, and he also has gained the experience of the grueling team matches of the Master'U competition from last year. We have a group of males who are passionate players who will bring some red, white and blue heat to France.
The gals are an unknown quantity to me. Thank God that Coach Mark Guilbeau, the women's coach from Virginia, is coaching with me, for he has experienced first-hand how great and spectacular our women players' credentials are. What I truly relish is the fact that, in a matter of days, we will be eight compatriots, family and friends who will have shared the joy of competing in international team competition for our country.
The new women on our team are National Indoor singles champion Maria Sanchez, who is a senior from USC. (She should be the No. 1 woman in the national collegiate singles rankings that come out this month). Magically, I got a great view of her at the USC/Notre Dame football game last week, when I went to the football game in Los Angeles and saw her honored at halftime of the football game.
Our other woman who will be representing the USA (with Kristy Filling and Maria Sanchez) is sophomore Allie Will from the University of Florida. Her accolades are numerous, and she has demonstrated that she is one of the top collegiate players in the nation with her still young collegiate career.
The competition will be fierce. We will be competing against great players, who have all had lengthy experience on the pro circuits from the seven teams representing Belgium, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and Switzerland. The French again seem to be the most formidable, since they have the home-court advantage. This year, they have switched the site of the championships to Normandy, and we will be competing on the slow, indoor red clay in Rouen, France, which should be a great advantage for the French.
The competition will begin with two women's singles matches, then followed by two men's singles matches. After the singles have finished, we will have three doubles matches, starting with the women's doubles, men's doubles and finishing with the mixed doubles. Each match accounts for one point, thus the team to win four out of the seven matches will advance in this team format.
Another important member of our squad is our guardian angel, Erica Perkins from the USTA Junior and Collegiate High Performance Office. Her enthusiasm and effort has fueled our quest to repeat our victory from last year.
To be honest, I can't wait to get together with Austin, Kristy and Coach Guilbeau again and get to meet and bond with Reid, Sekou, Allie and Maria. We all know that it will be the time of our lives. Most importantly, Coach Guilbeau and I have the common drive that this is not only our time to pursue the trophy but that this will also be a time for growth in the development of our players to come back to the USA with not only the title but as wiser and better players.