Yepifanova, Bicknell make case for college tennis

Arthur Kapetanakis | December 13, 2019

PLANTATION, Fla. – All of the talented competitors at the 2019 Orange Bowl have aspirations to play professional tennis. Some, including Alexandra Yepifanova and Blaise Bicknell, see college as the next logical step on the way.


Yepifanova (pictured above), the 2019 US Open girls’ singles finalist, views the decision as a no-brainer—though the 16-year-old's measured explanation suggests she has brains beyond her years. The articulate high school junior plans to take full advantage of the opportunity to continue her education and train with an elite program, while still competing in professional tournaments.


“Why choose between college and tennis when you can do both?” she reasoned.


In recent years, it has become common for elite collegiate tennis players to compete in pro tournaments throughout the year, as long as they fit around their college schedule. Former Duke standout Maria Mateas, for example, played No. 1 singles for the Blue Devils throughout the 2018-19 season while playing and winning in enough pro events to earn a Top-300 WTA ranking.


“Getting a college degree is something that’s important to me," Yepifanova continued. "I felt like my education was always just as important as my tennis, maybe even more important. So it’s something I’ve been planning from the very beginning.”


While the talented Bradenton, Fla., resident lists Duke and Stanford among her top choices, she has yet to commit and is still considering her college options.


Bicknell’s college plans are a bit more concrete. He’s currently enrolled at the University of Florida and is already reaping the benefits of head coach Bryan Shelton's program. 


“I love it, it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I’ve improved so much since I’ve been there training. The guys are really good, and it’s been great.”


Shelton suggested that he take advantage of an opening in his schedule to play the Orange Bowl and get some more top-level matches under his belt. After reaching the second round at the event in 2018 as a 17-year-old, Bicknell is one set away from bettering that result this year. He also entered the doubles event with his coach’s son, Benjamin, who will join him as a Gator in the fall of 2021.


Comparing the collegiate team atmosphere with the individual nature of junior tennis, Bicknell has a clear preference. 


“It’s different here, because you don’t have as many people backing you,” he said while waiting for his rain-suspended second-round match to be called at the rainy Orange Bowl. “I definitely prefer it with the team.”


And while Bicknell may be the only competitor currently enrolled in college, a host of soon-to-be collegians dot the Orange Bowl 18s draw.


Among the college-bound boys are Daniel Milavsky (Harvard commit), Max McKennon (Arizona State commit), James Tracy (Ohio State commit), Andrew Dale (Princeton commit), Micah Braswell (Texas commit) and Welsh Hotard (Oklahoma commit). On the girls’ side, India Houghton (Stanford commit) joins Yepifanova on the college-bound track. Countless more potential student-athletes are being scouted by a who's who of college coaches at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center.


As the profile of the college game continues to grow, the Orange Bowl will remain a major recruiting hub for those players who are willing to take the long road to the ATP and WTA Tours. 


For complete Orange Bowl results, draws, schedule and more, visit the official tournament website.


Previous 2019 Orange Bowl stories:

Robin Montgomery leads advancing Americans at rainy Orange Bowl

Swingin' in the rain: Handling Orange Bowl delays

Former champs Mary Joe Fernandez, Ivan Lendl in attendance as Orange Bowl gets underway 

Yepifanova, Damm highlight Orange Bowl field



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