After facing two tough teams in Tulsa and Southern Methodist University to start the season, the Razorback men’s tennis team faced No. 4 ranked Texas on Jan. 22, and even though the team lost to SMU and Texas, Razorback head coach Andy Jackson sees a lot of room for progress.
“(Against) Tulsa we won 4-3, (and) Tulsa’s beaten Texas, so they’re obviously going to be in the top 25,” Jackson said. “We got beat by SMU, who are going to be top 25, and it was a close match, we competed okay against Texas, so I feel like we’re going in the right direction and that it was good for us to be able to win against Illinois State. So things are going okay, but we want to be in the hunt for championships, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Jackson said he likes the way the team played against No. 4 Texas, and the fact that they didn’t come out with a win doesn’t discourage him looking forward.
“We could have won, even though we’re not playing that well right now, but we left some points out on the court,” Jackson said. “Some of that was Texas, some of that is us needing to play better. But I really like the way we competed, and I like the way things are progressing. We’ve got a long way to go, we want to be there in May.”
Jackson said he thinks the team could have won the match if a few things went differently.
“It’s not that we played bad, but we could have won,” Jackson said. “Adam (Sanjurjo) played much better today, but he could play much better. We’re not talking about a middle-of-the-road SEC team in Texas, we’re talking about an elite team.”
Senior Jose Salazar said the mistakes made in the Texas match were fixable, and he is confident looking ahead to the rest of the season.
“The season is really, really long, especially playing in the SEC, probably the best conference in the country,” Salazar said. “It’s not how we start, it’s how we finish. I think (so far) it could have gone a little bit better, I honestly thought we could have won SMU, but it’s okay, it’s just the beginning of the season. We have been practicing really hard, we have a lot of good matches ahead.”
Jackson is looking toward bigger things, including the major matches they will play in Norman, Oklahoma.
“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to be ready for the national team indoor which is on Saturday of next week” Jackson said. “We play Illinois, a top-15 team. So, instead of playing a lot of easy teams at the beginning, we wanted to challenge ourselves.”
With three straight top-25 teams in the upcoming schedule, the team will have plenty of challenges on their hands.
The three-game streak begins with current No. 17 Illinois, followed by either No. 12 Oklahoma or No. 21 Michigan and capped off by facing No. 12 Oklahoma in Fayetteville. This could be an intimidating task for any team, but Jackson said he is confident it won’t alter the way the team prepares.
“It doesn’t change the atmosphere at all during practice,” Jackson said. “I know from being around a few years, if you want to be a top-10 program, you’ve got to play top-25 teams all the time, and you’ve got to practice like you’re getting ready to play top-25 teams and, if not, you’re just sort of bluffing yourself.”
Jackson, after coaching for 32 seasons and finishing in the top 10 in 13 of those seasons, said he expects a lot from his team. He expects the team to work even harder and to get their confidence levels up along with their level of competition.
“Our confidence is not where I want it to be,” Jackson said. “I think we’ve got top-25 confidence, but I think if we work, we can have top-10 confidence. But, you’ve got to earn that, you can’t buy it at Walgreen’s.”
Salazar’s confidence hasn’t been shaken by the slow start, however. He looks forward to the challenges the team will face going forward.
“I honestly feel like we are really good in all positions,” Salazar said. “I think we can beat any team in the country, and I think we are a top-20 (team) for sure. We can be top 10 if we all play good, that’s for sure, and I don’t know where our limit is.”