Admiraal: captain of his own fate

By Matt Ferguson

Martijn Admiraal maintained his undefeated season in singles play as he finished his third and final set Sunday against Illinois State.

However, he was close to leaving his SIU tennis career behind during this time last year.

Senior captain Brandon Florez said Admiraal, a Netherlands native, began his first year with the Salukis in 2011 as a quiet one.

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“I remember the first time he came here. He didn’t talk for the first month,” he said. “He wouldn’t speak to us. Then Coach Nelson was saying one time, ‘You know, whoever wins we’ll buy cookies,’ and Martijn said ‘Keewkie?’ just like that. Ever since then, he hasn’t shut up.”

Florez and Admiraal, who are now doubles partners, have won eight of their last nine matches this season, including back-to-back victories against Missouri Valley Conference opponents. Their success is a result of their unique pairing last year before the start of the Illinois Tennis Association regionals.

At the time, Florez and doubles mate Stan Podier were the No. 1 doubles position on the team and looked to compete together in regionals. The two hit a snag when Podier was ruled ineligible because of a team infraction before the tournament started, leaving Florez without a partner.

Nelson said the team had to find someone to pair with their captain.

“I had to put Brandon with somebody,” coach Dann Nelson said, “We just kind of put Martijn in there not knowing how that would work. They had never played together before, even in practice, and it was amazing what they did at regionals.”

The pairing proved to be strong enough to beat MVC rival Wichita State duo Kester Black and Juan Estenssoro as well as No. 60 Nebraska partners Robert Schulze and Andre Stenger. Their wins against the Huskers duo helped earn them the No. 42 rank for doubles in the nation.

Their streak eventually ended by the nation’s No. 4 ranked pair in Tulsa’s Clifford Marsland and Ashley Watling in the ITA Central Regional Quarterfinals. Marsland and Watling went on to win the ITA Central Regional doubles.

Admiraal continued to play alongside Florez to open the spring season, when they beat No. 58 Purdue Boilermaker’s No. 1 duo. They continued to play together for the next two months, until Admiraal’s play began to slide.

Florez said a dip in play like this is common among foreign-born players.

“I’ve been here three-and-a-half years now, and it happens with everybody,” he said. “They are foreign. They come from overseas, and a little homesickness kicks in. At the time, I don’t think he knew how to handle it yet, not to mention he was 17-years-old and a younger incoming freshman.”

Winning just two of 13 singles matches, Admiraal was playing his worst tennis as a Saluki. He also had a 4-5 record in doubles play.

Admiraal attributed his performance to missing his home country.

“I just didn’t feel comfortable on the court anymore,” he said. “I was homesick, I wasn’t playing good tennis, which made (the homesickness) worse. It just wasn’t fun when I was getting killed on the court and not competing with the other teams.”

Florez said the team recognized Admiraal’s struggles and came to his aid. His roommates, Podier, senior Badr Cherradi and sophomore Jorge Cavero all did what they could to make him feel at home, he said.

“Martijn was actually about to leave SIU and then we all hung out with him a lot and tried to make him feel that, ‘We like you. You’re a good guy. Don’t leave, he said. “He ended up going to coach and saying, ‘Coach, I want to stay.'”

Their efforts were recognized by Admiraal.

“I felt like I was getting closer to the team,” Admiraal said. “I then felt that I didn’t prove myself yet, and I started getting back into it again. Eventually I decided to stay, and I think that was the right decision.”

Admiraal’s play is back and better than before his pairing with Florez in last season’s Regionals. The duo said they want to improve on last year and look to be ranked the MVC’s No. 1 seeded doubles team before team championships start.

Florez said he was impressed with his partner‘s progression.

“Saying ‘I want to stay’ and then coming out and not losing and playing the way he is playing now, I mean, he’s our rock,” he said. “When it’s three-all, it’s usually his match that we believe he is going to win. I think that’s all mental. He went from, ‘I don’t know what to do, I miss home’ and now he is, ‘I’m Martijn Admiraal, I’m playing number six, and I’m on a mission to put everything in there and win every match I can.'”

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