The USF men’s tennis team begins its season today as it hosts the 2008 Spring Invitational, a three-day, four-team tournament held at the USF Varsity Tennis Courts, which are located at the corner of Holly Dr. and Maple Dr.
The Invitational will pit the Bulls against Memphis, William & Mary and Florida A&M, and will provide points for the player’s individual rankings. It will have no bearing on the team as a whole.
Mahmoud Hamed – the team’s only senior this season – will be the team’s No. 1 player coming into the tournament. Hamed is ranked No. 84 in the nation by The Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
Hamed – one of the team’s many foreign players – is from Cairo, Egypt. He is an aggressive baseliner who relies on his forehand and quickness to win points. That versatility allows him to go from defense to offense very quickly within the point.
Hamed credits his fast improvement to playing in the Davis Cup for Egypt and finishing in second place in the African Olympics last summer.
“[The Olympics] taught me a lot,” Hamed said. “I defeated the No. 1 player from Nigeria, who was the seventh overall seed, and that gave me a lot of confidence.”
Sophomore Thomas Estrada, from Medellin, Columbia, is one of the team’s brightest stars and represents the future and potential USF has.
Estrada – an aggressive net player – struggled last year as a freshman during the Bulls’ 7-13 season, but he is ready to learn from the experience and step up for the team.
“I talk to players from the professional tour like David Nalbandian (No. 11 in the world) and Juan Martin Del Potro (No. 40) and they help me become a better player by giving me tips,” Estrada said. “I’m very grateful about that, since I admire Nalbandian’s work ethic and focus on the court.”
Estrada had a difficult time playing tennis throughout his life because the Columbian government provides little to no funding for its tennis facilities.
“I had no economic support from the Columbian government and that stunted my growth as a player,” Estrada said. “The lack of funding is the main reason I came to play for USF.”
Estrada also received scholarship offers from the University of Indiana and the University of Minnesota before coming to the U.S., but ultimately decided to come to South Florida because his family lives in Orlando and he preferred the Florida weather.
Coach Don Barr expects Estrada and Hamed to be catalysts for a winning season and ultimately an NCAA Tournament berth.
“We will be playing 10 nationally ranked teams this year,” Barr said. “But, despite the strong schedule, our goal as a team is to win the conference championship and get a team GPA of over 3.0. We currently have a 3.4 team GPA, an outstanding achievement that wouldn’t have been possible without the help from Myrtice Landers, who tutored the team at the Academic Enrichment Center.”