Husker men’s tennis: “You gotta hold serve”

Story by Tom Grant, NewsNetNebraska

Brandon Videtich walks onto the court with something to prove. The lanky 6-foot-4 walk-on from Lincoln East High School knows where he stands on the Nebraska men’s tennis team. He’s been hurt. He’s been down. He’s been beaten. Today represents a new chance to prove himself with challenge matches that could qualify him to finally travel with the team.

The players begin arriving 30 minutes before their 2 p.m. practice time to warm up. The team won’t be performing the typical day of hitting balls and doing full-court sprints. Today is different. No one’s spot is safe. The established players are fighting, too. They may know they’ll be in the lineup, but that’s not always good enough. They want to be the number one.

The battle between the team’s ace, Calin Paar, and top backup Andre Stenger shows why they rank so highly. Their movements are graceful. They hit the ball purely. Their game almost seems effortless.  Something is lacking in the high-profile competition that the matches down the court seem to capture. The games are sloppier, but they contain a different kind of intensity from those of their superiors. These players haven’t earned a spot on the playing roster. And there’s not enough room for all of them.

Videtich is locked into a matchup with Robert Shulze. The sun beats down on the players, heating the court so every step they take is painful. Videtich’s shirt has gone from bright red to maroon. The coaches look on. The two players pace back and forth between every point trying to keep their cool.

Videtich leads Shulze 3-0 in the third set and is completely in control. They’ve split the first two sets, but Videtich’s fate now rests in his own hands. Slowly, the heat begins to take its toll. He’s starting to wilt. The way he feels now is the reason he gets up earlier than most garbage men three days a week, to run and be in shape. He knows he needs to be in peak physical condition, but today his body is failing him.

His hands fall to his knees. He loses a tiebreaker after a rocket flicks the baseline. The momentum swings. Shulze breaks Videtich’s serve not once, but twice. Videtich is being run all over the court. Finally, Shulze completely breaks him down and takes the match. Videtich bends over at the waist like he’s about to vomit, and everyone looks at a broken man.

He’s blown his chance. He walks to the net and shakes Shulze’s hand, then covers his face with a white towel. For those three minutes, the towel becomes his shield, hiding him from the world.

“You gotta hold serve,” he says, cursing himself for his breakdown. He doesn’t need anyone else to tell him why he failed or what he did wrong. He already knows.

Others walking off their courts give him a pat on the back. They’ve all been there before and know how it feels. Time is dragging by, but Videtich rises to his feet and packs his bag. He hasn’t made the playing roster, and the fault is his own. Having his own serve broken makes it all that much tougher to face.

Walking off the court Videtich turns once more and peers at the ground. He looks at the mini-pools of water and sweat that have accumulated where he sat and played. He turns back to the sidewalk and his face reappears.

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