The Virginia men’s tennis team opens their season today with a three day road trip that will stop at Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Louisville. They’ll start the season with only two players ranked in the Top 125 of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s (ITA) Pre-Season Singles Rankings – Thai-Son Kwiatkowski at #39, and JC Aragone at #58. Their winning streak against ACC opponents is zero.
They also might be the best team to ever suit up for Virginia in ANY sport.
Virginia will start their season with the #1 team ranking, based in no small part on the fact that they have won the previous two NCAA Championships. Even if that weren’t the case, the roster Virginia will send out Friday is downright scary.
The dearth of ranked players is because the ITA singles rankings are computerized rankings based on results in college tennis events – and the Virginia roster mostly skipped the fall college events in favor of playing lower-level professional tournaments as amateurs. College players will occasionally take part in Futures tournaments, which are the low minors of the professional tennis circuit. Several schools like Virginia also host a Challenger event during the fall, which is a step above Futures events in terms of payouts and competitiveness.
Virginia lost their #1 player, 2015 NCAA Champion Ryan Shane. Shane, however, had a rocky senior season, barely staying above the 0.500 mark on matches in the #1 spot.
Last season’s #2 player, Collin Altamirano, was a bit of an enigma through 2016. His record in the #2 slot wasn’t spectacular, and he didn’t really play many events in the fall of 2016. Once the calendar switched over to 2017, Altamirano rolled into two Futures events in his home state of California in January and did some damage, raising his world ranking all the way to #811.
Last season’s #3 player, Kwiatkowski, is currently ranked #522 in the world on the back of a strong fall performance that culminated with a win in a Futures event in Puerto Rico.
Last season’s #5 player, JC Aragone, qualified for the main draw of the Charlottesville Challenger event in October. In the final round of qualifying he beat former Tulane 2016 All-American Dominik Koepfer. The next week he beat teammate Carl Soderlund in qualifying for a Challenger even in Columbus, OH. Then in December he beat Koepfer again on the way to the final in a Futures event in Tallahassee, FL before losing to former UNC #1 Brayden Schnur. Aragone is ranked #777 in the world.
That’s not the silliest part. Freshman Swede Carl Soderlund has joined the roster for this season, and will play his first college event today. He won a Futures event in his home country over the summer and has wins over both Kwiatkowski and Altamirano this year. Soderlund is the highest ranked player in the world on the Cavalier roster at #389.
The top 6 for Virginia are all ranked in the ATP world rankings. At the time of this writing, there are only 2,103 men in the rankings. Last year’s #4 player Alexander Ritschard is ranked #1091, and last season’s #6 player, Henrik Wiersholm is ranked #1865, although in November he was #838.
Perhaps the best way to give an accurate picture of just how powerful this lineup could be is to use the Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) system instead. The UTR is a system that uses both college and pro results to assign a score to each player. Most high level Division 1 college players have a score around 13, with very good college players having scores of 14. Three active college players have a rating of 15 – and only three men in the world have a 16 rating (Murray, Djokovic and Nadal). It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than the ITA system as true gauge of how good players are, with so many skipping college events to play lower level pro tournaments.
If you use the UTR system, Virginia’s players rank as the #3 (Kwiatkowski), #8 (Soderlund), #10 (Aragone), #11 (Ritschard), #22 (Altamirano), and #52 (Wiersholm) players in college. Even Virginia’s presumptive #7 player, Luca Corintelli, is ranked #86. Virginia will be favored at almost every line in every match they play, and the advantage will get bigger further down the lineup. Woe is the poor soul that has to play #5 singles against Virginia – they will be heavy underdogs.
This is not to say that Virginia has their third straight national title in the bag prior to even playing a match. It is, however, to alert Virginia fans that this is a team that will be the favorite every time they step onto the court, and that rarely has there been a collection of players this good (on paper at least) on the Virginia tennis roster. Catch them if you can and enjoy the ride.