Tennis En Fuego is back with another player profile. Today we feature recent USTA Northern champion, and former college teammate of mine, Tony Larson. Tony claimed the Northern Section for the second year in a row, and last week went on to compete against other regional winners at the US Open National Playoff in New Haven, CT (results here). By the way, the champion of the USONP moves on to the qualifying draw for the US Open itself! Case in point, everybody out there can play for that US Open dream, and Tony journeyed much further than most. Check out what he had to say about his tennis game and experience playing at the USONP!
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Right or Left Handed: Right
School: Westmont College (CA) 2 years, St. Cloud State (MN) 2 years
Occupation: Teach and play tennis professionally
Favorite player: Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras
TEF: How would you describe your style of game? What are some of your strengths?
TL: I’m an aggressive baseline player that likes to hit mostly forehands, and I move the ball to the open court and place shots well. I generally take more risks and go for more lines than most players, as well as hit more flat shots. My running speed and court coverage are my best assets though.
TEF: What are your thoughts about the US Open National playoffs, now in it’s second year of existence?
TL: It is a fun tournament, and I’m really glad it was implemented. Once you get far enough in the USTA sectional tournament you get lines-crew and quite a few spectators which is fun. At the nationals, it has been at the same time and place as US Open series tournaments, so it is a really fun experience to be around the top ranked pros and have the event run like a professional tournament. We were shuttled in golf carts everywhere and needed credentials to get into certain spots, as well as receiving unlimited water/Gatorade, ball kids, new balls every 7 games and people holding umbrellas over you on changeovers.
TEF: Describe your run winning the Northern qualifier. How did it feel to win the tournament and then travel to New Haven to play the USONP?
TL: I was able to win the Northern tournament both years, and had to beat some tough players from out of state. I was unable to attended nationals that first year, so I really wanted the shot at it again this year. The Northern sectional this year was much deeper and tougher, so I wasn’t sure if I would come through but I played really well, taking out the U of M #1 and a former top 300 player from a few years ago. I was excited to go to New Haven for the experience and the shot at something amazing.
TEF: Tell us a little about your 1st round win?
TL: I had never played anyone in the tournament before, but everyone was very good. However, I did get a favorable first round draw, and knew I had a good chance to win. I came out a little nervous losing the opening game, but then played great and won 6-1 6-1. Getting a win and adjusted to the conditions was important I felt.
TL: I was able to watch Blake for most of a set in his first round. From what I saw I thought I had a good chance to beat him actually, but I did not realize that he was pretty much just coasting at the time. I knew he had won some Futures tournaments and had close matches with top 100 players, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. From the first game of our match, I was fired up and hitting the ball great, honestly playing some of my best tennis. I think I caught him off-guard a little too and I broke his serve that first game. The next 3 or 4 games I was still playing great, with lots of long points and close games, but I found myself down 4-1. That was tough to swallow, and I sort of lost confidence at that point a little. Still, I played pretty well the whole match, could have converted a few more games, but ended up losing 6-1 6-2. Nothing I hit at him fazed him, or that he hadn’t seen before, and while he was just a tiny bit better than me at the baseline, he had a much better serve which made the difference.
TEF: Was this the most memorable tennis experience of your career? If not, what was another one?
TL: It ranks up at the top, just the whole experience of being at the tournament. Ive never played a player like Blake before, so it was important for me to have, especially looking forward. The last 2 years Ive won 98% of my matches around the Midwest and Canada, and Ive had a few straight sets wins over top 700 pros so I built up a lot of confidence, but after getting dominated like this I have a look at what the next level is like. Something to work towards. I think winning the state singles tournament in high school as a sophomore when nobody expected it is still my favorite memory though.
TEF: What is your most embarrassing moment of your tennis career?
TL: I had to think a long time about this one, there’s a few but nothing extremely funny other than the college team initiation you put me through my freshman year! One of my tournaments I played in 2007 I was winning 6-0 5-0 when it happened. I already had a hurt wrist, but that game I went up for a really high jump smash, and I somehow missed it completely and tore a ligament in my wrist. It probably was going to happen eventually anyways, but that put me out about 5 months when there was no need to showboat.
TEF: What do you think about the current state of the ATP Tour, and who is your favorite to win the US Open?
TL: It is amazing how Federer dominated so long, and then Nadal had started to seemingly take over and win 3 slams in a year looking like the next number one, when soon after Djokovic begins to never lose and take over the number 1 spot from them both. It will be interesting to see if Federer has another run in him again, and if Nadal can stay healthy and find a way to beat Djokovic, along with all the other great veterans and new players. I think Nadal will win the US Open this year, unless Djokovic gets healthy then I would probably pick him.
TEF:If you could change one thing about the professional tour, what would it be and why?
TL: For me personally, I would like to see more Futures tournaments in the US. There literally are not any very close to where I live, and there aren’t many in general especially in the fall and winter. That combined with almost no prize money to be won is why I do not play them and instead play sponsored open events. Otherwise, for the ATP players they should probably reformat the Davis Cup a little bit to help the top players out.