In Rheinau, Germany, Nicolas Paulus has grew accustomed to clay courts.
Now a junior on the men’s tennis team, Paulus has not only moved countries, but has been forced to adapt to a new playing surface.
Temple’s men’s tennis team consists of eight international students, all accustomed to a different court surfaces.
As international tennis players are used to playing on a clay surface, which is used throughout the world, they can find themselves in a constant state of adjustment. As Temple’s international student-athletes have come back to the United States’ standard surface, a hard court, the change presents its share of challenges early in the season.
Paulus has knows the change is difficult particularly during the winter months, as the move to an indoor court during the winter months requires an additional adaptation.
“[The team] is working on getting used to the conditions indoors,” Paulus said. “Since our matches were outdoors in the fall, we have to get used to being aggressive again and going to the net.”
Playing in unfamiliar conditions requires concentration and practice in order to get acclimated with how the ball will react on each of the different types of finishes.
Serving and returning serves on each surface requires different approaches and because of that, coach Steve Mauro feels it is a point of emphasis.
“This year, we have been concentrating on our serving game as well as returning serves,” Mauro said.
Continual practice has been important for the team, as having matches against each other has refilled the competitive juices.
“As a team, we have been practicing quite frequently,” Paulus said. “We also played exhibition matches against each other so we could prepare and get used to the conditions in America again.”
For Paulus, each year on the hard-court surfaces brings out a weakness in his game that requires additional practice each time he returns from Germany.
“I need to finish the point and not get into long rallies,” Paulus said. “I feel like I am doing a good job in attacking, but I need to close out the net better and sometimes I miss those opportunities to go to the net.”
Clay courts are known for slowing down ball speed, unlike hard surfaces. Paulus’ teammate, junior Santiago Canete, feels the same way, but stressed the difficulty of playing from the baselines on the hard surfaces.
“The indoor courts are faster,” Canete said. “It is hard to get quick points. It is harder to play from the baseline on faster courts.”
The early season has been all about adjustments – from getting accustomed to the new surfaces as well as losing a teammate to injury.
The team’s lone senior, Hernan Vasconez, tore his anterior cruciate ligament while practicing in his hometown of Ambato, Ecuador.
Losing Vasconez is a detriment to the team, but Mauro knows what his players must do.
“It is unfortunate with the injury to Hernan,” Mauro said. “As a whole, our group acts a certain way on and off the court … other players will have to step up.”
The Owls don’t lack in experience, at least, as the team’s active roster consists of five juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen.
“Experience is key when it comes to team sports,” Canete said. “Now as a team we are older. In the beginning it was hard because the majority of us were freshmen and sophomores, but now that we have more experience, it has been easier for us.”
After finishing with a combined record of 51-57 in singles and doubles matches as a team in the fall semester, Mauro feels his team needs to play steady tennis in order to improve.
“We need to be a little more solid as a group,” Mauro said. “We must play more consistent tennis.”
Dalton Balthaser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DaltonBalthaser