Daily Egyptian

Young Dawg dominates

By Tony McDaniel

The Dawgs’ biggest surprise this season came from one of their youngest players.

Freshman Michal Kianicka has played in the No. 2 spot for the Salukis for most of the season, playing to a 16-10 record in singles action so far in his career.

“I was expecting a tougher start,” Kianicka said. “I played well in the fall semester, and right now I’m also doing good and getting better, but I’ve sort of exceeded expectations.”

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While Kianicka’s singles record is good, his doubles numbers with sophomore Jonny Rigby are even better. The duo of Rigby and Kianicka are 21-7 this season, and in November they won the Missouri Valley Conference doubles championship.

“Mike is an amazing doubles player; he is probably the best player I’ve ever played with or against,” Rigby said. “The way I play sort of compliments him a little bit because I can play from the back and set him up so he can finish the point at the net.”

Kianicka’s success as a tennis player started long before he arrived in Carbondale.

Kianicka played in international tennis tournaments since 2007, winning several tournaments throughout his career including the International Tennis Federation U-18 Empire Cup, a 64-player tournament held in Kianicka’s home country of Slovakia. The ITF has also ranked Kianicka as high as 102nd in the world.

It was qualities like these that made Kianicka so appealing to coach Dann Nelson.

“His highest ITF ranking was 102 in the world, so that makes you take notice. That’s very impressive,” Nelson said. “I wasn’t able to see him play, I didn’t even have video actually, so it was a lot on faith.”

Kianicka signed with SIU over schools like Wake Forest University, Vanderbilt University and Northwestern University before making the move from Slovakia to Carbondale.

Kianicka said he was nervous about moving to a new country because he would have to deal with new cultures, a new language and balancing tough practices with a demanding school schedule. Kianicka said having teammates who had dealt with the same thing he went through at SIU helped him settle in.

“I asked them a lot of questions in the first month,” Kianicka said. “Jorge [Cavero] and Jonny helped me a lot, and I’ll try to help freshmen [in the future.]”

Kianicka said one of the strangest parts of living in America is simply how large this country is.

“Once coach was telling us, ‘this tournament is close,'” he said. “We were travelling for like four hours, and I was like this isn’t close. We can go from the west of Slovakia to the east of Slovakia in four hours, and here that’s close.”

Rigby said Kianicka is a determined teammate, but said he isn’t afraid to make a joke either.

“If we’re winning easily and I say something which he thinks is funny he will imitate my [English] accent, he’s quite funny,” Rigby said. “He’s never really satisfied. He always wants us to go a step further, I think that’s a good aspect to him as well.”

The Salukis only have three upper-classmen, meaning they’re a team full of young talent.

Looking to the future, Rigby said with Kianicka and him at the helm, he thinks SIU can become a dominant tennis team.

“I think we can be really good if we all keep working hard,” Rigby said. “I think it’s important that we all set a good example for any new guys that come in. We’ve got a really good foundation for next year… I think we’ve got potential to be one of the strongest teams in our conference.”

Rigby also made a prediction for this season’s MVC Freshman of the Year Award.

“For me, he’s been head and shoulders above other freshman in our conference,” Rigby said. “I think it’s worked out and he will deserve that award.”

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