The Wisconsin men’s tennis team is largely made up of fresh faces.
Seven freshmen, in fact, make up the Badgers 2011 roster, along with two sophomores and one senior.
Sophomore Billy Bertha is one of only three players returning with previous experience in the program. Amidst the overall youth in the program, the young Bertha acknowledges he understands the difficult situation the new players face.
“This year we had two guys leave, and last year three players graduated,” Bertha explained. “For the freshman right now it’s been difficult for them to cope with the rigors of academics, college life and tennis. Last year I was the youngest on the team, so I understand the adjustment they are going through.”
Bertha has embraced his new role on the team as a leader, focusing on what he can do individually to help his young teammates grow.
“I try to be vocal on the court and supportive of them when they’re playing,” Bertha said. “I try to set an example by being competitive and holding everyone accountable for the teams success. Right now we’re putting more emphasis on competitiveness in practice. It all starts in supporting your team and setting the example on the court.”
The largest example the team can draw from is Bertha’s doubles partner, senior captain Marek Michalicka.
Michalicka, a native of the Czech Republic, fits the mold the young Badgers can learn from. Right from the moment he stepped on the court, Michalicka was a winner. Named 2008 Big Ten Freshman of the Year as well as an All-Big Ten selection the last two years, Michalicka hopes that his game will speak for itself to the young team.
“The way I lead is preferably by example on the courts,” Michalicka said. “From my example the rest of the guys can see that hard work and dedication pays off.”
Hard work and dedication is indeed something that the senior player lives by. Named by the team in 2009 and 2010 as the team’s hardest worker, Michalicka is constantly found with a racket in his hands, even during his off time from the collegiate ranks.
“He’s by far the hardest worker on the team,” Bertha said. “He goes before practice and stays after practice to put extra time in to work on his game. He’s one of the fittest guys, always constantly on the track. It’s his personality too; he’ll give 110% in practices and in the game. He’s one of the best players in the country.”
Michalicka has taken on a role of greater prominence for the Badgers after the loss of top player Moritz Baumann to graduation. However, Baumann graduated right back into the program, becoming this season’s new student associate coach. Baumann, the only four-time All-Big Ten selection in the programs history, has only high praise for his former doubles partner.
“I think a leader has to have a really good work ethic and lead by example, especially for the young guys on a team,” Baumann said. “I think he definitely has those qualities…he always gives one hundred percent in practice. He has the right mix of talent and a strong work ethic, which make him a great captain.”
Baumann also gives the team a younger coach with fresh success at the player’s level that Michalicka and Bertha hope will guide the players to new heights.
“As an ex-player he’ll give you his perspective on what he did in those same situations,” Bertha said. “He’s definitely one of the most talented players I’ve seen. He’s dedicated to his game and when he practices with us he only helps us get better.”
“I think that the transition from juniors to college tennis is really hard,” Michalicka said. “Even though some players might have experience from international tournaments, college tennis is completely different. When you play against someone like Moritz you get an idea of what level you need to be at.”