'Ready for the fireworks to begin'
Coach Greg Patton | November 30, 2017
Six of the top collegiate players in the country – UCLA sophomore Ena Shibahara, Pepperdine sophomore Ashley Lahey, UNC freshman Alle Sanford, Florida junior Alfredo Perez, USC sophomore Brandon Holt and UCLA senior Martin Redlicki – are currently in France to compete in the 2017 Master’U BNP Paribas International Collegiate Team Competition, the world's most prestigious international college team event.
For the ninth time in the last 10 years, Boise State men’s coach Greg Patton will lead the U.S. team at the Master’U event and is being joined at the helm by Ohio State women’s coach Melissa Schaub, who is returning for a second consecutive year with the squad. Team USA will compete against teams from Belgium, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and Russia and will be going for its seventh straight title and eighth in the last nine years.
Coach Patton is writing a blog for USTA.com throughout the competition and, in his second entry, talks about Team USA's on-court preparations and off-court fun in the days leading up to the start of the 2017 Master'U competition. Stay tuned for more updates, and follow action from the Master'U event here.
Coach Melissa Schaub (Ohio State) and I had a day in “coaching heaven.” We had two great workouts with our U.S. team here in Lille, France, getting ready for the fireworks to begin on Friday.
I love these Wednesdays, for it is a day when the players truly start to blend into a team. Although the players were still shaking off the effects of a brutal day of over 24 hours of travel to get to Lille on Monday/Tuesday, they jumped onto the court as though it was a dance floor and started boogying to the music. Our “Dancing with the Stars” team of “Wonder Women” consists of Ashley Lahey (Pepperdine), Alle Sanford (North Carolina) and Ena Shibahara (UCLA). Our male gladiators are Brandon Holt (USC), Alfredo Perez (Florida), Martin Redlicki (UCLA) and assistant Garrett Patton (Cal Poly SLO).
Practice was intense, focused, fun and exhilarating. We get two courts in the chilly confines of the French indoor courts and before you knew it, they were sizzling to the beat and rhythm of balls ripping off the racquets. Coach Schaub and I were tapping our feet to the beat of the balls on the court. You can't beat that feeling of seeing players preparing for their upcoming battles.
We threw some games in there, and the competitive juices were flowing for our players. There’s nothing like ending practice with some Dingles. (With Dingles, teams consisting of two players on each side start the point with two balls in play, and once there is a miss with one of the balls, the game turns into a doubles point). Throw in some Soccer Tennis, and we capped off the practice session with a "One-Point Tournament" battle of the sexes, in which each tournament match is only one point and was won by our “Wonder Woman,” Alle Sanford. Now we are talking about the pressure of one point!
Meal times of lunch and dinner are not just a "grab-some-food-and-down-the-hatch-it-goes" event. Every time we eat, we are focused on team-building interaction, which goes into the details of what playing for your country means and the tradition and history of the Master'U BNP Paribas tournament. The fact that we have won seven titles over the past eight years and the legacy that they are playing for means so much to this team. Great people make great teams, and great teams produce great players! It’s amazing what two days of travel, three practices and tons of hours of talking about favorite movies, dream concerts and the journey of their lives to this point of playing for your country does to a group.
I am elated as I am witnessing these players from around the country who spend the majority of their collegiate lives competing for championships against each other now molding into a team. To see them enjoy each other's company and become close, tight friends is magic to behold. There is some delightful ribbing about each other's university teams, but it is also invigorating to see how each player has wonderful things to say about their programs and schools. As the hours go by, you can feel how they are truly present in this moment and that their team right now is Team USA.
Making friends is an essential component of playing tennis if one is to flourish in this game. The U.S. team is truly a part of the Master’U experience. Wednesday was one for me to greet my dear friends from the other countries and teams from the UK, France, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, China and Russia. The best part is seeing the coaches whom I have coached against for the past eight years and the returning players from each country. The past two days also gave me the chance to check out the teams from each country, what new players are at the table and who are the returning players from each national team. All I know is that this tournament is loaded with some mighty-fine talent, with many of the players experiencing success on the ATP and WTA tours.
Last night was extra special! Our team went to the beautiful center of Lille to explore and celebrate in the Christmas Village. We trekked for two hours, taking in the delights of chocolate crepes and waffles, doing some Christmas shopping and, to top it off, going for a chilly ride on a gigantic Ferris wheel in the middle of the historic center of the city. All I can say is it was awesome! None of us truly realized how high it got until we were gasping for breath at the top of the ride. We could see the lights of the Lille region for miles!
It’s now 11 a.m. local time on Thursday, and we are getting ready to drive over to the tournament site for lunch, one more practice at 2 p.m. and then the draw ceremony at 5:30 p.m., when we discover what our draw will be. Because we won the championship last year, we know we will be seeded No. 1, which only means that we are aware that we have a big target on our back. I already know that our players love the fact that everyone is shooting for us. It only means that the more intense and ferocious the competition, the more incredibly fun the battles are.
By the way, the format reminds me of the old-time classic movie, "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" The movie depicts the dance marathons of the Great Depression and stars Jane Fonda and Red Buttons. Our marathon each day is seven matches on one court, with each match counting for one point. The day starts with the four singles matches (women’s No. 2, men’s No. 2, women’s No. 1 and men's No. 1) and is then followed by women's doubles, men's doubles and finally mixed doubles. It is like a day of watching football bowl games during the holidays from sunrise to way past sunset.
Time to get ready, for here we come!