ASU men's tennis says home field advantage is feeding their recent success

The Sun Devils are thriving off their new home court crowd

Many ASU men's tennis players previously had no experience playing for a team and were accustomed to the lack of spotlight. However, the players have now found a new opportunity in playing for ASU and represent something larger than just themselves. 

The Pac-12 season opener became one of the best attended match of the season, and approximately 374 fans showed up to cheer on the Sun Devils as they took on No. 3 Stanford.

“The background they are coming from ... out in Europe, where you play on court 27, no one is watching you,” assistant coach Michal Kokta said. “This is just way different. All of the sudden, they play in front of a team. The people in the stands wear the same colors. They love it, the bigger the crowd, the better.” 

Freshman William Kirkman explained that fans can really help win matches for the team, and the more fans that come out and support, the better. Even when they lose, a big crowd can make the match stand out, like the Stanford match.

“You are representing the fork, ASU, so you want people to look at you, shoulders back, out there with a purpose, no negative energy, which is super important not only in tennis, but all Sun Devil athletics,”  Kirkman said.

Although the March 8 match ultimately ended in Stanford’s favor, 4-3, the match itself was loud and rowdy. It pushed the team to a battle that came down to one last set on court four.

Different ASU athletic teams, like Sun Devil baseball, came out and cheered them on. Having support from the ASU community has made a difference on the home court, Kirkman said. 

“Even though it was a loss, I have to say Stanford (was my favorite match),” Kirkman said. “The fans can really win a match for you like any other sport, so the more people we can get the better.”

Doubles partners senior Michael Geerts and freshman Tim Ruehl defeated the No. 58 pair of sophomore Michael Genender and junior Sameer Kumar. On court two, sophomore Baonoromandresy Rakotomalala and freshman Andrea Bolla defeated the No. 27 ranked pair of freshman Axel Geller and senior Tom Fawcett.

One player who stands out the most to his teammates, coaches and the fans when it comes to feeding off the crowd is Rakotomalala.

“100 percent my French teammate,” said Kirkman when asked who loves the crowd. “He honestly lives for it. He gets so hyped up like that, I don’t even need to look at the crowd I just feel it.”

It can be seen in his energy on the court – when Rakotomalala scores a point he almost always turns to the crowd and throws his arms up, soaking in their energy. Rakotomalala thrives off the fans.

“It’s always good to play in front of a large crowd," Rakotomalala said. "It’s more entertaining. You know when you win big points you look at the crowd and they respond to you. I love it."

The ASU men’s tennis team lacks student support compared to other popular sports such as basketball and football, where attendance is much higher, but the team has created some creative ways to bring students in.

Head coach Matt Hill got the inspiration for the "sorority challenge" from his days at Mississippi State to include different aspects of ASU's student body at the matches. 

“The sorority challenge is a two-part competition between any sororities who would like to participate. Part one of the sorority challenge is having a house host one of our home matches with a theme in mind," team manager Christian Kern said. "Part two being who can bring in the most people. The winners will be decided at the end of the season based on best theme, host and attendance for a cash prize." 

The team went to different sorority chapter meetings on campus and introduced the challenge. 

“I think it’s pretty cool sororities come out. We get to meet them in their meetings and stuff like that which is sweet,” Kirkman said. “I mean I think that’s awesome they benefit; we both benefit which is great.”

At the majority of home matches, a different sorority comes out with signs to support the tennis team not only brings a diverse group of spectators. 

The challenge not only brings a new excitement to the men's tennis team, but it also introduces tennis to a whole new fan base.

"Tennis is one of those sports that isn’t as big as football or basketball, so when the guys get fans out they get pumped up by the crowd and it definitely affects the way they play," Kern said. 

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