Sophomore Sensation caps stellar season with All-American
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."
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
"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,
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."
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
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
"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.