While Rafael Nadal was sweeping into the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open here with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over fellow Spaniard Marcel Granollers, Andres Gomez, the Ecuadorian who won the French Open in 1990, was discussing American college tennis, a subject close to his heart.
That is hardly surprising, as Gomez’s son, Emilio, is a leading light on the USC team that won the NCAAs last year and has continued its unbeaten run into 2012. Emilio, who went 4-0 at the NCAAs, names his father and Nadal as the greatest influences on his tennis career, which already has embraced playing Davis Cup for Ecuador.
Andres is obviously proud of his son’s achievements but spoke more broadly about the future of college tennis, which he follows closely during frequent visits to Southern California from his home base in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
“I think the future of American tennis lies in the college game,” Gomez said. “They are changing the rules so that you will have play college tennis within a year of leaving high school, so you will have younger players involved at an age when they can benefit from some of the best coaches in the game.”
Gomez himself was almost recruited by the legendary USC coach George Toley. “I said I would think about going to USC, but then I got straight into the US Open that year and had to tell him, ‘Sorry, Coach, but I’m turning pro.’”
There was no such hesitation on the part of his son, who is benefiting from the coaching skills of Peter Smith, named Coach of the Year in 2011. John Isner, who played for the University of Georgia, and the South African Kevin Anderson, who was at the University of Illinois, are the prime examples on the tour at the moment of how far college tennis can take you.
“There are plenty of very good coaches all across America now,” said Leif Shiras, who was on the Princeton team with Jay Lapidus, another player who enjoyed some success on the ATP tour. “You benefit so much from practicing and being around other good players under a good coach.”
Some of the former touring pros who are now in charge of college teams include Glenn Michibata, a former world No. 1 doubles player, at Princeton; Marty Davis at UC Santa Barbara; Matt Anger at University of Washington; and Luke Jensen at Syracuse. Then, of course, there is Billy Martin, who has been at UCLA for 29 years; the first 10 under Glenn Bassett, and the last 19 in charge of Bruins tennis.
“The colleges might also become stricter about letting foreign players in,” Gomez said. “Czechs and Russians and, yes, South Americans have taken up a lot of places that might have gone to Americans over the years. I can see this changing.”
Meanwhile, Emilio’s hero, Nadal, looked in good shape as he fought off a late challenge from Granollers. Strangely for two Spaniards, they had never met in a competitive match before.
Earlier in the day, Juan Martin del Potro had to escape from five set points against the Spanish southpaw Fernando Verdasco in the second set before winning 6-2, 7-6. “I was lucky in the second set when I save five set points, and then at the end of the tie break he served a double fault to give me match point,” said del Potro.
Match by match the tall Argentine, who beat Roger Federer in the 2009 US Open final, is looking more like his old self. He lost almost a year out of his career in 2010 with a wrist injury that, for a long time, no one could diagnose.
“I saw many doctors, all of them say different things,” he said. “Then I found a good doctor in Minnesota, and after surgery I (recovered) well. I think being in the top 10 is a gift for me after that. I love this sport, and hopefully I will be healthy for many, many years.”
His fellow pros welcomed back this quiet, popular man but they won’t enjoy playing him if he goes on hitting the ball like this.
In women’s play, world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka extended her unbeaten run in 2012 to 20 matches by defeating Germany’s Julia Goerges 6-3, 6-1.
But Jamie Hampton’s hopes were dashed when the 22-year-old from Alabama was forced to quit at 0-3 down in the third against Agnieszka Radwanska after playing really well in the opening set. Unhappily for Hampton, the fever she had been suffering from the previous day caused her to cramp, and Radwanska, the world No. 5, was a little fortunate to go through 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 ret.
No problems for Maria Sharapova as the sun blazed down on the Stadium Court. The Russian looked very solid in beating the 22nd-seeded Italian Roberta Vinci 6-2, 6-1 to advance to the quarterfinals.