ASU men's tennis has found its rhythm heading into the Pac-12 Championships

After a tough non-conference schedule and a change of doubles pairings, the Sun Devils are prepared for the postseason

The No. 34 ASU men's tennis team has worked hard all season to find its rhythm, and now they are headed to their first Pac-12 championship since their 10-year hiatus.

Before their collegiate careers had begun, coach Matt Hill knew what his individual players were capable of. In order to see where they ranked as a collegiate team, he created a tough non-conference schedule against top nationally ranked schools.

In the team's first week of the season, they went head to head with then-No. 25 Duke and then-No. 7 TCU. As the season progressed, it competed against even higher ranked teams before Pac-12 play.

“We felt like we recruited a lot of the best players in the world coming into college tennis,” Hill said. “We knew they could handle a schedule like that to prepare for the national championships.”

At the previous schools he coached, Hill tried experimenting with easy non-conference play, but when the teams got to championship play, they were unprepared. In light of this, Hill developed a a philosophy where his team would be challenged by the toughest schools in the nation in order to determine their level of play. 

“We want to be one of the best teams in the country,” Hill said. “In order to do that, we want to play against the best and see where we stand with them.” 

Sophomore Makey Rakotomalala agrees with Hill’s philosophy and said he didn’t come to ASU to play easy teams – he came to play the best.

“I came here to play (on) this type of (nationally ranked) team,” Rakotomalala said. “It’s good for me, especially if I want to play professionally after college.”

The Sun Devils have found success within their tough schedule and have learned which aspects of their training worked and what needed help.

Through the difficult non-conference schedule, the team got the opportunity to play against some of the nation's top individually ranked players.

Senior and captain Michael Geerts played and beat No. 1 Martin Redlicki of UCLA and then-No. 2  Mikael Torpegaard of Ohio State, making his short collegiate career one of ASU men's tennis' most successful.

One thing the coaching staff noticed when playing against nationally ranked teams was that their doubles pairing was not getting the job done.

“At the beginning of the year, doubles was not that good,” freshman Andrea Bolla said. “The coaches decided to just change couples.” 

Rakotomalala, who started off in a double’s pair with Geerts, is now ranked No. 45 with his current partner Bolla.

“We had a tough time in the beginning of the year to find doubles (that were the) perfect pair for each other,” Rakotomalala said. “So we tried a couple things. Now we are 45th in the country in doubles.”

Hill said it wasn’t easy to find the right partners. To gain trust from the team, Hill brought in players to discuss options for pairs with the whole coaching staff. It took a few matches, but Hill feels confident with the outcome, and he believes he found strong pairs who balance each other on the court.

“Their personalities are a lot of times pretty different,” Hill said. “(It) helps balance them out in big moments.”

Rakotomalala, who is known for his high energy and for feeding off the crowd during matches, is complemented by his quieter partner Bolla. 

“He’s a really cool guy,” Rakotomalala said. “He’s a little quiet, but I bring the energy and he brings the calm.”

The team's highest ranking pair, Bolla and Rakotomalala, speak French on the court and have developed a strong friendship off the court.

"We have a similar style of play," Bolla said. "And I have said many times we have lots of fun on the court. We are pretty confident now."


Reach the reporter at skbrisen@asu.edu or follow @sophiabriseno on Twitter.

Like State Press Sports on Facebook and follow @statepressport on Twitter.


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.