Despite limited playing time together, Saluki doubles partners Brandon Florez and Martijn Admiraal began the season highly-ranked.
Junior Florez and freshman Admiraal had never played a tournament together when they entered the doubles draw at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association regionals in October. Despite the lack of chemistry and the fact that the two hadn’t played together before the start of regionals, the duo managed to go 2-1 before they were eliminated in the quarter-finals.
The strong showing at regionals propelled the duo in a 42nd overall double ranking by the ITA, which made them the first nationally ranked doubles team from SIU since 2006. Florez said the ranking is great recognition for SIU and the Missouri Valley Conference.
“It definitely sends a message through the conference, and it also represents the conference very well,” Florez said.
Florez, who received news of the ranking while training during the winter break, said the standing encouraged him to continue working toward an even higher ITA ranking. Admiraal said the ranking helped boost his confidence by showing he had the ability to play doubles at a high level.
Admiraal is in his first year as a Saluki after moving to the United States from Lutjebroek, Holland. Coach Dann Nelson said being a part of the tennis team has played a role in Admiraal’s ability to adapt to SIU and America.
“I know it’s got to be tough for guys when they come over, and it was no different for Martijn,” Nelson said. “Once he got more comfortable his tennis started to improve. His teammates were there for him during that transition period and a lot of it was Martijn being a mature kid.”
Florez also praised Admiraal’s maturity and level-headed thinking, which helped the duo progress on the court. Because Florez is one of few upperclassman on the team, he tends to be one of the leaders, Florez said. When he struggles during practice, Florez said he tries to focus on the positives and is conscious of how his actions affect the team.
The four-week winter break did not allow the two time to practice before the beginning of the second half of the season, but since returning to campus Nelson said the duo plays together during practice to further develop chemistry.
Nelson said the two must work on their poaching situations, or when a teammate is serving and the partner rotates over to receive the cross-court return.
Being comfortable with each other on the court is a big part of their success, Nelson said. Admiraal said the two are becoming more comfortable with each other’s game very quickly.
“I feel really confident next to Brandon. His returns are really good, so when I’m at the net and he’s returning, it works well — and his volleys are amazing,” Admiraal said.
Florez and Admiraal went 2-1 Friday through Sunday during the MVC Individual Tournament. Nelson said the duo’s success has a lot to do with them being able to do little things.
“They keep it simple; they are not trying to play outside of themselves and go for low percentage shots,” said Nelson. “And in doubles if you do that, you can beat good teams like they did at regionals.”
The SIU tennis team returns to action Feb. 4 in West Lafayette, Ind., at Purdue University.