Gators test out ranking
Published: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 12:06 a.m.
By their own admission, the Florida men's tennis team is a bit overrated to start the dual match season.
Despite losing five seniors off last year's Southeastern Conference title team, Florida opens the dual-match season this weekend as the nation's third-ranked team. The Gators will put the ranking to its first test when it plays host to The Citadel at 5 p.m. today and to Florida State Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Ring Tennis Complex.
Coach Andy Jackson admits this is a rebuilding season for his Gators.
"This is a major transition year for us," Jackson said. "Sometimes the preseason ranking is based strictly on the school's name. People see that we have two All-Americans, and we're trying to give that impression that we're going to be pretty good."
Anchoring this year's team are a pair of All-Americans. Junior Hamid Mirzadeh of Lake Worth and sophomore Janne Holmia of Finland will be the cornerstone of a team that has to fill five new positions.
Jackson said both Holmia and Mirzadeh are capable of capturing the NCAA singles title this season. Holmia was one of the nation's top freshmen last year and opens this season ranked ninth in the country in singles. Mirzadeh played the No. 1 position for the Gators last year and was first-team All-SEC. He opens the season ranked 24th in the country in singles.
"Me and Janne are going to have to step us this year," Mirzadeh said.
That's because four of the nine players on Florida's roster didn't play at all for Florida a year ago. Sophomores Ryan Sherry and Chris Brandi redshirted last season while junior transfer Vladimir Obradovic was playing in his native Serbia. Add to the mix true freshman Martin Stiegwardt, and this year's team has a young and inexperienced makeup.
The uncertainty seems to be causing plenty of anxiety for Mirzadeh and Holmia.
"To be honest, last year our back four were strong and experienced," Mirzadeh said. "But now it's a little weaker because of the four-year difference. We had a lot of confidence last year but this year, it's the other way around."
Added Holmia: "I just want to see them fighting their (butts) off. If they do that, it's going to be a good outcome."
The jewel of the newcomers is Obradovic, a 23-year-old Serb who is ranked 52nd in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association preseason singles poll. At 6-foot-5, Obradovic has impressed his coaches and teammates in the fall.
"We're expecting him to be at the same level as Janne or Hamid," Jackson said. "Frankly, I'd be surprised if he's not."
You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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