Men’s tennis coach Bruce Berque discusses 2022 season

Matthew Caldwell, Sports Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the April 5, 2022 flipbook.

Through extremely tough competition and injuries, the 2022 season has been anything but easy for Texas men’s tennis.

With three matches remaining, the regular season is quickly coming to a close. Texas currently has a record of 13–8. The team started the season ranked third in the country, but have since fallen to eleventh. Thirteen of the team’s 21 matches played have come against top-30 ranked teams, including two matches against No. 1 Florida, two matches against No. 4 Baylor and matches against No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 TCU, No. 7 Wake Forest and No. 9 Georgia.

“We want to try to play with the best,” head coach Bruce Berque said. “We’ve had some really good wins. But we haven’t been able to put together a string of wins.”

Despite the rough schedule, the leading reason Texas has not been able to go on a lengthy winning streak is because of the injuries that have plagued the team. The Longhorns have played much of the season without a fully healthy roster. Freshman Pierre-Yves Bailly, who plays in the top half of the lineup, missed four matches in the heart of the season, and redshirt sophomore Cleeve Harper has also missed multiple matches.

Additionally, sophomore Eliot Spizzirri has been dealing with a left-hand injury throughout the season, forcing him to resort to slice backhands as opposed to his two-handed backhand, which boasts much more speed and topspin.

“Eliot, even though he’s not playing number one right now, is recognized as our best player and he’s doing a lot for the team to go out there and play every match injured,” Berque said.

Yet, even in the midst of these injuries, the Longhorns have secured strong wins, including an upset over then No. 5 Florida, the defending national champions, and a road win in Los Angeles against then No. 9 USC.

One of the big wins Berque mentioned was the match against former rival, No. 28 Texas A&M. Berque said he hopes the win over the Aggies was a turning point for the Longhorns.

After coming off a three-match losing streak, the win over the Aggies did prove to be big, as it gave Texas confidence heading into its home match against No. 2 Ohio State. Although the match resulted in a loss, Berque noted the team’s fight and grit, and how he believed the match gave the Longhorns confidence for their next two matches in California against No. 9 USC and No. 21 Pepperdine. The Longhorns won both.

“We have good depth, which is probably the biggest reason we’ve been able to hang around the top 10,” Berque said. “The biggest thing we have control over is the team spirit.” 

Sophomore Siem Woldeab can often be heard during matches, loudly expressing his feelings on the court. His energy is essential to the Longhorns’ spirit as a whole, according to Berque.

“I feel like, as Siem goes, so goes our team,” Berque said. “Because when things are going well for him, it’s pretty exciting and he has a lot of energy that can carry throughout the six courts.”

In addition to Woldeab, Berque identifies Harper as one of the team’s leaders. 

“Harper has developed into one of the more passionate and fiery competitors we have. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to play recently,” Berque said. “But Cleeve is probably the one we count on the most in that way.”

Because of players’ injuries, Texas has had to roll out a multitude of different lineups, but Berque believes the team is a force to be reckoned with when fully healthy. 

“I wouldn’t take any other lineup in the country,” Berque said. “I think we have the skill and the experience and competitiveness to beat anybody. I think this is one of the strongest rosters on paper that I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Although Texas’ record isn’t what most have been accustomed to because of their success in recent years, when you take into account its strength of schedule and injuries, it doesn’t seem so bad for a team with title aspirations. Texas finishes the regular season against No. 3 TCU, No. 33 Oklahoma and No. 51 Oklahoma State before they head to the Big 12 Championship tournament in Fort Worth.