Head coach Karen Martinez sat down with GoCumberlandAthletics.com this week for a season preview of both clubs.
Cumberland’s men are ranked 22nd nationally in the NAIA and were voted third in the Mid-South Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Junior Ramon Puertolas is ranked 30th nationally and eighth in the East Region in singles while sophomore Riccardo Ferraris is rated 16th in the region in singles.
The Phoenix return two other players with lots of experience – juniors Axel Lucich and Thiago Lopes.
“[The returning players] have more experience, especially in doubles. That’s going to help the freshmen win those points because doubles is very important,” Martinez said.
One very important aspect of college tennis are the three doubles matches, which count as three points in the match score in the NAIA. Deciding who will play together in doubles and at what spot in the lineup.
Ferraris and Puertolas posted a 6-2 doubles mark last season while Lucich and Lopes have played doubles together most of the last two years, combining for a 14-12 dual match record.
“We’ve been doing different match play during practice to see who has more chemistry with each other. The results of those practice matches will help us decide who plays together.
“The returners have experience together, like Ramon and Riccardo and Axel and Thiago, so I think we are going to keep them together. If we need to get a doubles point, we know they are going to be able to pull out the match if they are under pressure.”
Martinez may have a more difficult time deciding the singles lineup, with as many as seven players with similar skill sets and ability. That gives the first-year head coach flexibility to mix-and-match depending on the opponent but she also must juggle the ego of players used to playing higher in the lineup.
Puertolas enjoyed a tremendous fall campaign, compiling a 7-2 mark and reaching the semifinals of the ITA Southeast Championships. Ferraris finished the fall 7-3, winning four times in the region championships as well.
“Ramon is very consistent. He is in very good shape and can run the court all day. And he has a great attitude especially. He’s probably going to be at the top of the lineup,” Martinez said.
“Riccardo has improved his serve. Because he is very tall, his serve is a great weapon. We’ve been working on his serve and trying to make it more consistent.”
Lopes registered 12 singles wins as a freshman and was 6-7 last year playing anywhere from No. 2-4 in the lineup.
“Thiago is a good guy to have at the bottom [of the lineup] because of his game style. He is very consistent so he can help us a lot at four or five. That doesn’t mean he is the number four or five player on the team; he could be even higher, especially during conference play.
“Sometimes the match comes out down to the number four or five player and he has experience. Normally you will have a freshman playing in that spot, so his experience is an advantage in those matches.
“Axel is the same way with experience and a consistent game. Thiago and Axel playing at the bottom of the lineup is going to help us to get really good wins.”
Three freshmen will also see time in the lineup throughout the season -- Francisco Fernandez Meaca, Pau Grabuleda Cruañas and Omar Santiagonúñez Ahumada. Grabuleda Cruañas collected a 6-2 singles mark this fall while Fernandez Meaca and Santiagonúñez Ahumada combined for a 4-3 record.
“Pau is a very powerful player. I think he is going to be in the top of our lineup. He probably needs to improve his mental game a little bit, but I think he’s going to help us at the top of the lineup.
“Omar will probably be towards the bottom. He’s a very smart player. He has patterns that he plays, so that is going to help us a lot. He’s very mature, too.
“Francisco is a very hard player to play against because he changes the rhythm of the match. He has very good skills and is very talented. I think he’s going to help us a lot in doubles.
The three newcomers will also have to play doubles in each match, either together or possibly with one of the returners, and Martinez thinks Fernandez Meaca will play a major factor in those outings.
“I think Francisco, we may rotate him with different partners in doubles. He’s very skilled. He can play with a powerful player or a player who is more consistent. He is very good at opening the court. He has very good strategy in doubles. He’s going to help us playing three or two or even one doubles. We can move him up and down the lineup.”
Cumberland men’s and women’s tennis opens the 2018 dual match season with three outings this weekend in Harrogate, facing King University, Union College and host Lincoln Memorial. Head coach Karen Martinez sat down with GoCumberlandAthletics.com this week for a season preview of both clubs.
Sophomore Ainhoa Garijo Garrido is ranked 14th nationally and fourth in the East Region in singles in the Oracle/ITA NAIA Women's Tennis Rankings. The Phoenix were picked fifth in the Mid-South Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
Garijo Garrido, senior Jasmine Shankar and sophomore Belén Salazar Yañez are the only returners for the Phoenix this season. Martinez heads into the season with four freshmen to go with the three returners.
Garijo Garrido posted a 10-2 singles mark this fall, winning all three matches at the Middle Georgia Fall Invitational, both outings at the University of the Cumberlands and registering a 5-1 mark at the ITA Southeast Championships, losing in the finals at the region championships.
“We really pushed Ainhoa during the offseason to get in better shape. We’ve worked her hard in conditioning. She’s very talented. If she is in good shape, she can beat anyone she plays,” Martinez said.
“She has improved a lot since last year. We’ve worked with her on staying calm and focused. Sometimes when she would have unforced errors, she would lose focus in the match, but she listens really well when you are there coaching her.”
Shankar has played most 3-4 in the lineup throughout her career, registering an 8-9 overall mark as a freshman and 13-9 as a sophomore. Salazar Yañez finished last season 3-5 in singles and was 2-3 this fall.
“Jasmine told me she lost confidence so we have been doing individuals and helping her get her confidence back. We actually practiced the other day and she beat Ainhoa in a super tiebreaker, so she’s been playing very well. She wants to have a good season because this is her last year. She has been working really hard on and off the court. Her attitude has been great for the team.
“Belen is someone with experience who can help our younger players. She has improved her conditioning from last year, which should help her as the season progresses.”
Martinez will juggle four newcomers in the lineup through the 2018 campaign in either singles or doubles, two of whom gained experience in the fall – Marianela Landi and Joana Bou.
“Marianela is a very consistent player. If she plays three for us, she’s going to get some wins. She listens and has a good attitude so I think she’s going to help the team a lot,” Martinez said. “Joana played one season already [at Augusta State], so she has some experience. She knows how the matches go so I think that is going to help. She can hit the ball well and plays with consistency, so if she plays three or four with Marianela, they are going to help us a lot in the lineup.”
Two other freshmen arrived on campus in January and will play catch-up most of the spring, acclimating to the different aspects of collegiate tennis as well as a new country and schoolwork, but Martinez is encouraged from what she has seen in practice from both Ana Marĩa Collazos and Stefanie Navaratnam.
“Ana Marĩa is very consistent. She grinds a lot, which should really help her in singles matches. Stefanie works hard. She always wants to do individuals and put in extra work. She hits a good backhand, a good flat ball. We just need to see how they do in their first match because practice is much different than playing.”
Martinez says practice over the last month has been trying to prepare the team, especially the freshmen, for what the atmosphere will be like for matches this spring.
“We try to put as much pressure on them in practice as we can so we can try and simulate what a match is going to be like. I will also purposefully make bad calls in practice to prepare them for when it happens in a match. We want to be known at Cumberland for our sportsmanship. I don’t want them arguing bad calls in matches so I have been preparing them in practice.