Men’s Tennis Coach Gene Orlando talks with Spartans Athletic Director Bill Beekman on this edition of the MSU Today podcast.
“We’re fortunate to have a season this year, and we’re thankful for the Big Ten conference and MSU supporting us,” says Orlando. “We get to play an unbelievable schedule. The Big Ten conference is one of the best conferences in the country. It’s exciting to have that many quality matches.
“We're off to a good start. It's been a great improvement; the guys have really come a long way. We weren't able to compete in the fall. But we took the challenge, and we were just so excited to be able to be back together in September and train and work together. We really missed it and we stayed true to each other. And we had no COVID cases and just kept our bubble small. But the guys trained so hard.”
Orlando talks about how he became interested in tennis and how he immediately fell in love with the game soon as he was introduced to it. And he discusses how the game of tennis has evolved over the years.
“The equipment, obviously, has been transformational; going from wood rackets to graphite has added more power to the game. Then there’s the physical training. Back in the '70s and '80s and even the early '90s, training and fitness weren't really part of the game. Now it's a major part of the game. And there’s the mental side; you have sports psychologists. You have all these different assets going into developing a tennis player. Before it was not that. It was just the athlete learning on his own, doing the drills and competing. But now when you have all the athletic training, the fitness, the mental side, and then the development of someone's game, you’re really producing unbelievable players.”
Orlando adds that tennis is a much more international game then it was a few decades ago. He still focuses most of his recruiting in Michigan and the Midwest.
“We can't miss out on the opportunity to grow the game within Michigan and the Midwest. The more players that we give the opportunity to play the game and to compete at this level, the more likely it is that they will go on to share the game with many others. Some might be tennis pros, and some might be just club players. But to me, for us to really grow this game, it's really important to have American players.
“It's great if you can mix in and just have maybe a sprinkle of international players. I think that really gives a great flavor for all the players on your team to get an international experience and international players to get an experience of American players. But it might be to a point where there are teams that are completely foreign, completely international. But I think it's important for college teams to give the opportunities to American players to grow this game and give everyone an opportunity to play the game.”
Coach Orlando talks about the differences involved in playing tennis indoors and outdoors. And he describes some of his favorite memories in 30 years as MSU’s men’s tennis coach.
“When we qualified for the NCAA tournament and we got to have the watch party, Coach Izzo opened up his video room and we had it on a TV screen. And we were truly on the bubble. It wasn't like we were waiting for our name to be called. When our name was called that was pretty cool.
“And some of my best memories are when alumni return to campus to be recognized. To see their joy and see how touched they are, and being part of that, those are moments that really stick out to me the most. Just sharing the and being part of the past. Even though I wasn't there, I felt like I was there sharing many moments with our past players and seeing their successes. It’s great to see their success as they have moved on through life. To see other people's success, those are the best moments.”
Orlando talks about guiding his team through the pandemic.
“One of our goals was to stay COVID free; we had to be responsible. We have great leaders who really stressed the importance of keeping our bubble small and being smart. Our guys have done a great job. And sure, it hasn't been easy. We had our episodes, just like every other team, but we've weathered the storm.
“We can't look at it and say, ‘Oh, woe is us,’ or ‘Are we going to be able to play this season.’ This is life and we have to do the right thing and do what's best for all of us.
“I think the guys have done a really good job. They’re treating it as if their next match could be their last match because you really don't know. You could be sidelined or the team could be sidelined. Treat each day as an opportunity to get better and know that there's no guarantee for tomorrow. And when we compete on the weekend, I've been hearing it from the guys when they speak up, ‘Hey guys, we're leaving it all out there today because there might not be tomorrow. There's no guarantee for us.’
“We will be better because of this situation that we've been in the last year. Sure, it's tough living it and being in it. But I think once we get past this, we'll look back and say, ‘Wow, this is what we did and this is what we accomplished, and I am better because of it.’”
MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on 105.1 FM, AM 870, and wkar.org. Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.