Expectations are high for the Texas men’s tennis team this year. The Longhorns are expected to make another run to the Final Four and compete for a national championship, and sophomore Ben Chen is one of the young players already proving himself.
Texas has reliable upperclassmen, but the key to the season will lie in the development of the underclassmen.
Even though the first two matches against Cal and Tulsa were never in doubt, Chen’s victory sealed both team wins.
Against Michigan on Jan. 22, Chen proved to be the difference between a win and a loss. With the Longhorns and Wolverines tied 3-3, it was up to Chen to win his match to keep Texas undefeated.
“Everyone circled around his court near the end, but he just played with a lot of poise,” said Texas head coach Michael Center.
Chen won the first set but dropped the second, forcing a decisive third set to decide the match.
“I was the last guy on the court and the pressure was on,” Chen said. “But with the help of coach and the support of the guys on the team, I was able to settle in and play good in the last set to get the win.”
Coming into the season, Texas had known commodities in seniors Ed Corrie, Kellen Damico and junior Jean Andersen. However, there were still some unproven players on the team without their experience.
“It’s definitely new to me,” Chen said. “Last year I didn’t play in the lineup.”
Even though he was not in the lineup last year, others see Chen as a veteran.
“I knew he was prepared for that moment,” Center said. “I think he had a lot of confidence going into that match, and that’s what you get yourself ready for. You’ve got to be prepared to be that last guy on the court. I thought he handled the moment really well, and played with a lot of poise and it didn’t surprise me at all that he won that match.”
Chen used the off-season to his advantage, improving every day, whether through practice or tournament play.
“It’s really been a culmination of last year, this summer and this fall,” Center said. “The work he’s put in and the time and the commitment to go play in tournaments in the summer has allowed him to be successful this year.”
While Chen and Center are both aware of the vast improvements that the underclassman has made since last year, they both agree that the most important stat is Texas’ record.
“You have to have a team,” Center said. “One of the things we pride ourselves on is to not only have a great team but a great program where guys are developing and getting better and are ready to step into that role.”