By T.J. Stricklin
Auburn men's tennis senior Edward Nguyen has kept busy on the courts heading into the fall season.
The Montreal, Quebec, Canada, product competed in the Canada F5 Futures tournament in early September. Held in Calgary, Alberta, it was a tournament designed for up-and-coming players to build their professional rankings. This level of competition was nothing new for Nguyen, as he's been competing in tournaments all off-season.
"I tried to play a lot this summer. I played a couple of challengers, who are mid-tier professionals. I was able to get wild cards into those. There were a lot of good players playing; the top seed in the tournament was ranked in the top 100, so it was a pretty big competition."
As one might imagine, getting into these tournaments is no small feat. Nguyen has established himself as one of the top Canadian players eligible to receive a call, an achievement in itself, despite not being a professional yet.
"I don't have a professional ranking yet, so I try to take any opportunity I get from the Canadian federation. They gave me a wild card that allowed me to play in the tournament. They just filter through the top players in Canada to decide who gets the wild cards."
Nguyen's wild card placed him directly in the main draw for singles. He was unable to come out with a victory, but gained valuable experience in a tight match against Winston Lin, a former All-American from Columbia University currently ranked No. 818 in singles in the world. Lin has been globally ranked as high as 683 in singles through his budding professional career.
"I lost 7-5, 6-3. I had opportunities at first. I had a bad overrule by the umpire, but it was great to get out there and play in that tournament. It's a different competition than college."
Nguyen was able to gain valuable experience and use a change in play style and the environment to his advantage.
"I'm trying to play a bit more aggressive with my style. I had a tendency in college matches to stay back and hope for the guy to make mistakes, rather than going after the match. That's what I really want to do this year. I just want to think about my aggressive game and avoid playing too conservatively. This summer, back home I did a lot of work on getting into the net and attacking.
Since the tournament was in Calgary, we played at a high altitude, so the balls were flying a lot quicker than normal. I was able to use that to my advantage. The results weren't as good as I wanted, but my aggressive game stood out. It was a good step in the right direction."
In doubles, Nguyen teamed up with current University of Texas player Harrison Scott. The duo defeated Charlie Emhardt and Jeffrey Schorsch (former All-Americans from Valparaiso that finished in the Elite Eight of the doubles portion in last year's NCAA Tournament) fairly handily by a score of 6-1, 6-4 in the round of 16.
"That was a good confidence boost. Our coaches here were pretty happy about it."
In the quarterfinals, Nguyen and Scott lost a nail-biter to Roberto Cid Subervi and Kaichi Uchida, the eventual champions of the tournament in a tiebreaker by a score of 4-6, 6-3 [9-11]. Subervi and Uchida are both globally ranked in doubles, with Uchida ranking as high as 283 in his career.
"Just a few points here and there made the difference -- we were actually up 8-6 in the super tiebreaker, but lost 11-9, so that was a bit frustrating. If we could have won that match, we could have gotten our professional points, so there was a lot on the line for that one. It was frustrating to lose that match, but they were really good players. Both guys were ranked in the top 500, so it was a good competition."
Looking back, Nguyen is proud of his performance with a first-time doubles partner.
"We knew each other, but it was our first partnership. Going 11-9 with the eventual champion was pretty good. It was frustrating that they won when we were so close to winning, because you think about what could have been, but it was really good to play with him. He plays really well. He plays in one of the top three positions at Texas, so he's a good player."
Even with his success, Nguyen was able to identify some aspects in his game he can improve.
"Coming out of that tournament, it's more of the match play -- knowing what to do on the big points was the main difference. The guy I played was playing in consecutive tournaments, so once you get into the midst of playing every week, you get used to playing the bigger points well. It's just missed opportunities here and there. I want to solidify my serve, which is a good weapon of mine, and avoid giving free points like double faults."
As Nguyen has been able to compete in these important tournaments, he has been able to progressively boost his confidence.
"The biggest thing I got out of that tournament is knowing that I can compete with guys on the next level. Knowing that I'm right there and getting into really close matches with some of the guys at the top who play professionally year-round is a great confidence booster going into the season. I just want to build off that. I'm leaving tomorrow for another tournament in Canada as well, so hopefully I can translate the work I put in the last two weeks onto the court and go from there."
Going into his senior season, Nguyen hopes this experience will help him grow as a leader and guide the team to a successful season.
"It's a great confidence booster. It's great to be playing a lot of good matches against top-level guys. I hope I can translate that into the season. I have pretty hefty goals for myself and the team this season. With it being my senior year, I also want to go out with a bang and be the best I can be. The more matches I get in, the more comfortable I'll be going into the season."
Nguyen is competing this week in the Canada F8 Futures tournament in Niagara, Ontario. With so much experience in the offseason, Nguyen has laid the foundation for a big finish in his last collegiate season.
T.J. Stricklin is a student assistant in Auburn Athletics Communications