Men’s Tennis Serves Up Success
Hard work and positive motivation help alumni coaches transform the team into national champions.
During a break in the first set for Luc Fomba ’22 in the 2022 NCAA tournament, David Roditi ’96 used his trademark hat to shield his top player’s eyes. As the head coach spoke, the star player nodded. Fomba then returned to the court and served an ace, a ball his opponent couldn’t return.
Roditi was in his element that hot afternoon in early May when TCU faced the University of Utah. The Horned Frogs had entered the NCAA men’s tennis championship as the No. 1 national seed. The team had won the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s indoor national championship earlier in the year.
More than a thousand fans watched the Horned Frogs play on the purple courts of Bayard H. Friedman Tennis Center, where the team defeated Utah 4-0. Hosting so many spectators would be a rarity for almost any other college tennis venue — but not at TCU.
When Roditi, the winningest player in TCU tennis history with 250 victories, returned to coach at his alma mater in 2010, he set about reshaping the tennis culture.
One of his first big moves was hiring former TCU teammate Devin Bowen ’94 as assistant coach. Like Roditi, his college roommate, Bowen had been successful playing professionally. During a dozen years on the pro circuit, Bowen hit a career high ranking of No. 39 for doubles.
“They are the yin to each other’s yang,” said Jeremiah Donati, director of intercollegiate athletics. “David is the CEO, running the program and managing the ship, while Devin is extraordinary with player development.
“Then you have the crowds because of the great atmosphere, which was very intentional on David’s part. I can’t think of any other college tennis matches where music is being played and there is pizza or taco trucks. Players respond to that,” Donati said. “Anyone would.”
A Winning Tradition
As a 5-year-old in Guadalajara, Mexico, Roditi picked up a tennis racket while his mother took squash lessons at a private club.
During high school, Roditi, who has dual citizenship because of his American mother, moved to Orange County, California, to live with a tennis coach. There, he met Bowen, who planned to attend TCU and play tennis for legendary coach Bernard “Tut” Bartzen.
As an undergraduate at the College of William & Mary in 1948, Bartzen had been one half of a duo that won the NCAA doubles championship. The Korean War interrupted his pro career. He served as head coach of the TCU men’s team from 1974 to 1998, during which his teams were nationally ranked 19 times and won eight conference championships.
On the recommendation of Bowen’s father, Bart, Bartzen recruited Roditi two years later.
Roditi, a three-time All-American at TCU, moved to the professional circuit after earning a degree in marketing. As a doubles player, Roditi played in all four Grand Slams — the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open — and was on the Davis Cup team representing Mexico. Plagued by a shoulder injury, he quit the pro circuit in 2000.
“The combination of the coaches — David, Devin and Derek [Siddiqui, the volunteer assistant coach] — and their experiences, a very good tennis program and a really tight group of guys made me know I wanted to be a part of this team,” said Sander Jong, a senior from the Netherlands whom Bowen nicknamed the Landlord. “He would say that I just went on the courts, collected the rent real quick, then got off the courts,” Jong said.
“The coaches are both really competitive,” said Juan Carlos “Charlie” Aguilar, who competed for TCU in 2021-22 as a graduate student. “They have good chemistry with each other, and they set the tone for good chemistry with the team.”
After retiring from professional tennis, Roditi began his coaching career at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas. He left to become lead national coach for the U.S. Tennis Association.
Roditi accepted his dream job as TCU’s head men’s tennis coach in August 2010.
Chris Price ’11 played for Roditi in the early years. He pointed to the “Keep It in the Purple Committee” as a major Roditi innovation. The head coach put his marketing education to use by assembling a group of local movers and shakers that comes up with ideas to generate excitement about matches.
When the Frogs play at home, fans might enjoy everything from free pizza, popcorn and tailgates to face painting and Easter egg hunts. TCU never charges admission to regular season matches, where the bleachers sit under a canopy of oak trees.
“We’ve tried everything, and all of it is mostly from David,” said Linda Lawrence Cappel ’80, a charter member of the committee. She also owns the pro shop by the outdoor courts and effectively serves as team mom.
Roditi’s goal is to flood the tennis center with more than 2,000 fans every time the Frogs play. In 2015, he lobbied Big 12 Conference decision-makers to allow the atmosphere to be more like a festival than the near-silent events associated with competitions like Wimbledon.
That year the Big 12 adopted the so-called Roditi Rule as a change to its decorum policy, encouraging spectators to cheer on their favorite teams.
“It’s good, the cheering,” said Fomba, who is from Paris. “It’s nice to hear people out there who like and support you.”
Doing the Work
A good number of Roditi recruits have followed in his and Bowen’s footsteps to play professionally, including Alex Rybakov ’20, Reese Stalder ’19 and Jerry Lopez ’18. In May, Alastair Gray ’21 cracked the top 300 players in the world and advanced to the second round of Wimbledon in July. Incoming first-year Sebastian Gorzny, who lives in the Texas Hill Country, won the 2022 Wimbledon Championship in boys’ doubles.
“Coach Roditi is an incredible motivator,” said TCU Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr. “I have personally witnessed him interacting with the players on many occasions, and I am always so impressed with his attitude of positive motivation.”
The most successful Horned Frog so far during the Roditi-Bowen era is Cameron Norrie, who broke into the Top 10 men’s singles players in the world in April and made it to the Wimbledon semifinals in July.
“I think the biggest thing is that [Roditi is] a great person, a very genuine guy, and he’s looking out for you not only on the court but off the court,” Norrie said during a trip in February to train at TCU.
Norrie said Bowen was crucial in molding him into a top player.
“Devin’s professionalism and his work ethic and attention to detail are amazing,” Norrie said. “He and David complement each other and helped me make good decisions on and off the court, always while doing what was best for my career.”
Roditi and Bowen, meanwhile, said that having a player of Norrie’s caliber return to train at TCU helps motivate the current student-athletes.
“There’s something about seeing a truly great player like Cam putting in the time that makes them work just that much harder,” Roditi said.
Donati concurred. “Recruits want to go someplace with past success and where they can get better and have a great experience,” he said. “That’s the type of place that David and Devin have built here.”
None of this surprises Ashley Fisher ’98, head tennis coach at the University of South Florida, which played TCU in Fort Worth in March. (The Frogs won 6-1.) Fisher, who was half of a No. 1-ranked doubles team while at TCU, counts Roditi and Bowen as friends.
“Even back when he was playing college tennis, David thought he was a coach,” Fisher said. “He had the uncanny ability to know everything that was happening on the other five courts while he was in the midst of a match.”
Siddiqui, who was named head men’s tennis coach at Grand Canyon University in July, arrived at TCU in 2018 to become the team’s volunteer assistant coach. Per NCAA rules, student-athletes can practice up to 20 hours a week. The three coaches typically split up the players and work with them individually on the courts.
“With a lot of teams, everyone does the same thing, but for us, player development is crucial to our program,” Siddiqui said. “We train them as pros.”
They might practice on the courts two hours at a stretch. Each player also works with an on-staff nutritionist and receives coaching from a mental fitness trainer. Bowen, who has a reputation for extreme discipline in training and preparation, leads the group in mental prep practices as well.
A National Title
As the Frogs have succeeded, pressure has built — something the coaching staff works to counteract.
“One of the things we want to do is keep the boys humble,” Bowen said. “There’s already enough pressure out there. We don’t want to add to that.”
The Frogs entered February’s Indoor Tennis Association national championship ranked No. 4, with a single loss during the season. The No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers had defeated TCU in January in Fort Worth, 4-3.
The teams met again in the championship in Seattle after TCU defeated No. 1 Ohio State in the tournament semifinals.
After the upset, Roditi and Bowen doubled down on keeping all eight members of the team focused but not stressed.
“We did well at the indoors because we came in there with something to prove,” Bowen said. “We went in with an underdog mentality.”
The players said they felt ready for the rematch against Tennessee.
“It was just like any other match, though of course there were thoughts in your head like, ‘We could actually be national champions today,’ ” said Jong, who won his doubles match with partner Lui Maxted, a first-year from the United Kingdom. Jong proceeded to win his singles match in two sets.
“I didn’t really think about the big trophy at the end,” said Fomba, who won his doubles match alongside sophomore Scotsman Jake Fearnley.
That Monday in Seattle would see Fomba’s singles match end abruptly when the Frogs clinched the title, thanks to an ace on the championship point by Pedro Vives, a first-year from Spain.
“This one’s for Coach Bartzen,” Roditi said after hoisting the trophy. “This one is for all the coaches and all the alumni that have put their blood, sweat and tears into our program to get to this moment.”
In May, the Horned Frogs made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA championship for the fifth time in the last seven seasons. In the season’s final match against Kentucky, Cappel sat with Roditi’s sons, Max, 8, and Sebastian, 6, watching sophomore Tomas Jirousek from the Czech Republic win his singles match. The Frogs ended up losing 4-3.
When the stakes grow high, the coaches said, they strive to strike the right tone with the players — one that helps them correct any issues while keeping them in the moment.
“It’s like parenting,” Roditi said. “It’s often more about praising what you want from them, but it’s hard because you constantly have to check yourself.”
Months later, when talking about the indoor championship title, Roditi credited the tightknit atmosphere on and off the courts with helping tip the Horned Frogs over the top.
“Devin and I are like brothers, which makes it so much more special to be able to share this season with him,” Roditi said. “In the end, it’s all about family. Our team loves each other and does the work.”