The men’s tennis coach finished his sixth season at his alma mater and again found a home at the top of the rankings.
David Roditi '96 wears a distinctive hat as he leads his team on the tennis court. (photo courtesy of TCU Athletics.)
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The squad finished ranked No. 3, won the Big 12 title, advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 and one player made the Final Four in singles. What’s the highlight of the year for you?
Definitely, the Big 12 Conference championship. Any time you win your league and as a team that beats all the others. The Big 12 was toughest conference this year. All six schools were ranked in the top 15 during the year. To be the team that wins from that group is a big accomplishment. I’m very proud of the guys.
This year the team finished third in the final rankings. Last season, you were in the top five. What’s happened the last two years to move from a top 20 program to a top five program?
We have tremendous players, elite players, who have worked hard in the off-season and gotten their fitness and nutrition and training to the point that they’re ready to play hard and win. I also have to credit assistant coach Devin Bowen ’94. He works on their mental stamina and that’s maybe been the biggest difference. It’s not often that elite players join a program and are more impressed with the assistant coach, but that’s the case here.
Devin is tremendous with them. Even when he was on the professional tour, he was known as the hardest-working, best-prepared player. He got more out of his talent than anyone else. I think our players see that and respect that. Devin is one of my best friends and I can’t think of another person that could have a better influence for our players. We are lucky to have him here and our coaching staff is now complete, as he and Fernando (Sanchez) will help us get to the next level.
Both you and Bowen played here. What does it mean to coach at your alma mater?
It’s a great honor and a great responsibility. When we played at TCU, we — but especially Devin — set the bar on how hard we could work. It is not any different as coaches. We love TCU. It is our school too. Not just the players’. So we all work to make TCU the best program in the country, and we are very close to that, not just on the court but in the classroom — our team GPA was above 3.0 — and the atmosphere of our matches, how we conduct ourselves as gentlemen on campus and in the community.
TCU led the NCAA in attendance again. How have you accomplished this?
We have wonderful support from the community and the student body. College tennis is fun. There is a lot to cheer for during matches. But we also know that fans and students like to enjoy it as an event, so we have popcorn and pizza. We have kids slap hands with the players. That’s really important. In tennis, you can see the players and know what they look like. They don’t have helmets or gear on that sort of hides their identity. We wanted to make the most of that and make them seem really accessible.
It is our school too. Not just the players’. So we all work to make TCU the best program in the country
What do the players think?
Oh, they love it. They want to play in front of big crowds. They want to hear people cheering and bringing signs. They want sororities coming to their matches. That’s part of what we tell them during recruiting – that we have a really special atmosphere.
You have seven American-born players and four foreign-born players on the roster. How did you arrive at that mix?
I’m very proud that we have a lot of American players. Not everyone does. It’s very competitive to get most of our players, but that’s especially true of the top American talent. There are great players all over the world. We have players from South America; one from New Zealand. In the past we’ve had European players. We see all of them at the juniors level at the major tournaments – Wimbledon, French Open, U.S. Open. The goal is to bring [them] to TCU to have a wonderful college experience, grow their bodies, grow their minds and set them up to have long professional careers.
The goal is to bring [them] to TCU to have a wonderful college experience, grow their bodies, grow their minds and set them up to have long professional careers.
There’s always the challenge of keeping them at the collegiate level.
Yes, for some. But our message is that the pro tours aren’t going anywhere. But they won’t always have a chance to enjoy their college years. There are practical reasons too. Most professional players reach their peak years in their mid- to late-20s. Most of them are better off developing their game in college and getting an education then they have prime years to play on tour and hopefully have a 10-, 12-year career. It wasn’t always like that. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, guys like Michael Chang and Boris Becker were playing at 17, 18. The game has changed now, and I think it’s for the best for today’s players.
You’re of Mexican descent. Does that help you recruit and relate to international players?
I think so. Many of the top junior players have coaches [who] know me. That’s usually a good thing. [Laugh] They also know Devin and respect him a lot. Usually, they’re interested in the whole package – facilities, competition level, school spirit, academics. Coaching is in there too, but it’s a mix of things. Different aspects have more or less importance from guy to guy. A lot of the American players want to go where the school has good football. So that’s a plus for us. During [former coach Tut] Bartzen’s time, that wasn’t the case.
You’ve taken to wearing a distinctive hat at matches. What’s the story behind that?
We have a supporter of the program who makes hats, and he wanted me to have one after he saw me really sweating at one match. They’re high-quality hats, and since it’s Fort Worth, I said, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” My wife wasn’t so sure about it, and she knows that only made me want to wear it more. Now, I have coaches asking about it. I have a felt one, a mesh one and a fur-lined one for winter. We went to the NCAA banquet and wore them, and a lot of the other teams — especially the women’s teams — complimented the look. And that’s what you want.
— Rick Waters ’95
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