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Sophomore Sensation caps stellar season with All-American honors 6/28/02

By Andrew Derr, Originally appeared in the Flagship

Vanderbilt men's tennis sensation Bobby Reynolds finished his second season as a Commodore in elite company, in more ways than one.

In the 2002 NCAA singles tournament that ended May 27th, Georgia's Matias Booker - the #1 player in the country -- successfully defended his 2001 singles title by defeating Kentucky's Jesse Witten, #4 in the country. Only two players in the country defeated both Witten and Booker during the 2002 tennis season - Reynolds was one of them.

Additionally, Reynolds became just the second men's player in Commodore school history to earn All-American honors. Despite a disappointing loss in the second round of this year's NCAA tournament, Reynolds, a native of Acworth, Ga., finished his second season with an outstanding record of 30-13, good enough for a #15 national ranking. Only former All-American Chris Groer has more individual wins in a single season (1995, 31-6).

Reynolds entered this year's tournament as one of the top 16 seeds. He cruised to a straight set first round victory over Washington's Matt Hanlin, 6-4, 6-2. In the second-round, Reynolds drew a tough match-up against Georgia's Brandon Wagner. Reynolds took the first set 6-3, but dropped the next two, 3-6, 2-6 to end his season.

"I grew up with Brandon playing in Georgia," Reynolds said recently from his home in Acworth, preparing to begin summer workouts. "On any given day, he can play like a #1 player. I knew it would be a tough match, and it was."

Despite the early exit from this year's tournament, Reynolds' experience was a positive one.

"As a seeded player, being a sophomore, being my first time there - I was pretty nervous," he admitted. "Looking back at it now, I am very grateful to have gone through this my sophomore year, and not perhaps my senior year when my career would be all over. Hopefully, next year, I'll make it back there."

Team Leader
Over the next two years, if Reynolds plays anywhere close to the level at which he played this season, there is little doubt that he will be a regular at the NCAA tournament. Vanderbilt coach Ken Flach is one of his biggest supporters.

"I couldn't have asked for a better recruit," Flach said of his star player and team leader. "He has not only met my expectations, but he has exceeded them. Not only on the court, but off the court as well.

"Playing at the #1 singles spot brings responsibility," the 6th-year coach added. "Last year, Bobby played at #2 and his play was so steady this fall, that he deserved to be #1 this spring."

After a solid freshman campaign last season (23-15 at singles, 27-12 in doubles play), Reynolds began this year with increased expectations. "Coach told me last year that someone was going to have to step up," Reynolds said. "I knew that if I wanted to be playing against the top players, I needed to take that leadership role along with the top spot."

The role has suited him well. As Flach admitted, Reynolds cares more about the team's success than his individual accomplishments.

"If you lose, but the team wins, you can tell the guys who are truly happy," Flach said recently. "With Bobby, even if he wins and the team loses, he is genuinely upset. That's just how he is."

Big-Time Victories in 2002
Reynolds had plenty of wins in 2002, with a couple of huge victories in conference play this spring. At Georgia on March 1, Reynolds opened Southeastern Conference play with a stunning upset of defending NCAA singles champion Matias Booker. Reynolds won a three-set thriller, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

For Reynolds, having grown up in Georgia, the win was a sweet one.

"I would say that was my most memorable win," Reynolds said of his victory over Booker. "Georgia recruited me pretty heavily, and people had said, 'we can't believe you left Georgia.' It felt good to go in there and beat the #1 guy in the country."

At the NCAA team regionals in early May, Reynolds scored another upset, knocking off Kentucky's Witten, who was ranked #6 at the time. After dropping the first set, Reynolds battled back to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

"Anytime you get a top-10 win, it's a marquee win," coach Flach said of Reynolds' win. "Just a month before that match, he had lost to Witten. We worked with him, and he made some adjustments.

"Bobby's an aggressive baseliner," Flach continued. "His ground-strokes are his strength, and he's learning to attack more. Against Witten the second time, he played a lot more aggressive, and when Bobby plays his game, he can play with anybody."

Why Vanderbilt?
One might wonder why Reynolds decided to leave the state of Georgia after high school, especially with the Bulldogs - a perennial men's tennis power - recruiting him so heavily. Coach Flach remembered the process.

"Bobby was one of the nation's top juniors when he came to Vanderbilt," Flach recalled. "A lot of schools were recruiting him: Georgia, Michigan, Illinois. When you recruit somebody, you just don't know how it will turn out."

In the end, it turned out just fine.

"Georgia was just too close," Reynolds concluded. "I knew I didn't want to go too far away, and the education benefit was a factor of course. Also, I knew I could be up high if I played at Vanderbilt and I would be playing against top singles players across the country."

Displaying an early team attitude that has become apparent over the past two seasons, Reynolds also said his incoming class was an important factor. "I knew that I'd be coming in with a big group of freshman. That was a chance to make great friends and play with them for four years."

Finally, it didn't hurt to know he would have a coach with a wealth of experience on which to rely.

"I love playing for Coach Flach," the sophomore said. "You don't see too many coaches at this level who also have so much experience. He was #1 doubles in the world, and he's got so much knowledge.

"For me, he's a perfect coach for my style of play," Reynolds added. "Over the past two years, Coach Flach has been a lot like a big brother, and that's been great."

Reynolds admitted that his first season was a rough one at times. "We had five freshman come in, and it was hard for us to understand college tennis against big-time SEC schools. We got demolished some days," Reynolds recalled of the 2001 season.

"But we learned a lot playing against those tough schools," Reynolds concluded. "We learned we had as much talent, we just didn't get the breaks as often. As each year goes by, we get better."

As Coach Flach assessed this past season and looked to the 2003 campaign, he agreed. "We made even bigger strides this year. No team blew us out, but we just couldn't get over the hump as many times as we would have liked," Flach said.

"With everyone coming back, maturing more in the off-season, I would definitely be disappointed if we're not a top-20 team next season," Flach added.

With that talented group of players coming back, a top-20 team is certainly within the team's reach. And with All-American Bobby Reynolds leading the way, there's no telling how far he and the team will advance next season.


 








 
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
                   
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