When Minnesota men's tennis coach Geoff Young and top singles player Raoul Schwark boarded a plane for Tulsa, Okla. Wednesday morning, the pair left Minneapolis with different expectations of what can be accomplished this weekend at the Polo Ralph Lauren All-American Tennis Championships.
Schwark, the 41st ranked player in the country in the preseason Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, will step onto the courts at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center on the University of Tulsa campus with mild goals while competing among the top 64 players in the country.
The senior from Dalheim, Germany, who will be the Gophers' lone representative as play begins today in the four-day main draw, said winning one or two rounds would be a great accomplishment for his first-ever trip to the All-American tournament.
"I know 85 percent of draw will probably be better than me, so I have nothing to lose," Schwark said.
Coach Young, who has seen Schwark transform from an unranked, relatively unknown player last fall into one of the top 50 collegiate tennis players, said he has larger aspirations this weekend for the man who will likely be at the top of his singles lineup all season long.
"I think he can win the tournament, I have that thought in the back of my mind," Young said. "If he focuses one match at a time, I think he could win the tournament. But the goal is to get better."
Another goal of the tournament, as is the case in all fall matches, is for Schwark to improve his individual ranking. Both Schwark and Young acknowledged that a strong showing this weekend will go a long way in helping Schwark qualify for the 2008 NCAA Tennis Championships that will be held in mid-May.
With that long-term goal in the back of his mind, Schwark has been preparing extra hard for the tournament: making sure he is in the best condition he can be, and even lifting weights routinely.
"He is a mature player, he knows what's important and how to prepare for these tournaments," Young said.
While Schwark will likely play the role of the underdog for as long as he can stay in the draw, he knows exactly what will be going through the minds of the top-seeded players.
Just two weeks ago, Schwark was the No. 1 overall seed at the Princeton Invitational, which he won outright after an early scare from his first-round opponent.
"That was the perfect tournament for him to get ready for this tournament," Young said. "The goal of that was to compete and clearly he struggled a little early, which says it is good he played it, maybe he was just nervous and feeling out (his game). Now he is (ready)."
Schwark said despite his high ranking to enter the fall season, he didn't have much confidence entering the year because he didn't play as much as he would have liked during the summer.
But after his experiences in Princeton, Schwark appears to have a new mindset entering what is without question the biggest individual tournament of his collegiate career.
"Now I've got a lot of confidence and am feeling really good on court," Schwark said. "I hope I can play as good as in Princeton. If I play like that, I could win one or two rounds and then see how far I can make it."
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