For Guelph’s Zac Faveri, this season of U.S. college tennis at Western Michigan University has been one of mixed emotions.
The John F. Ross CVI graduate is having a stellar doubles’ campaign with partner Jannik Opitz of Germany, but Faveri’s singles’ season hasn’t been as successful.
“For singles and doubles it's been tough to get in our lineup because our team is so good,” Faveri said. “We haven't lost a conference match since I've been here. In four years we beat a lot of good teams so for singles, it's been really tough for me over these four years so I was just thinking, all right, I can focus on doubles, too. That's another way to get into our lineup and I've been playing really well.”
Faveri was the local District 10 high schools’ boys’ singles champion in 2015 and 2013 and teamed with Darko Stanisic to win the boys’ doubles’ championship in 2014.
However, his doubles’ experience at Western Michigan was limited until this year as he and Optiz have won 11 of the 12 matches they’ve played including their first 10.
“I was really never a doubles player before this year in our lineup at least,” 21-year-old Faveri said. “I was fortunate enough that our coach put me with Jannik who is now the best Western Michigan player of all time in the record books. He's awesome to play with and we complement our games really well. He's so knowledgeable and it really makes my life easier playing with him, for sure.”
The individual styles of the pair just seem to fit together well.
“He does such a good job,” Faveri said of Optiz. “He's like 6'4", a really big lefty. For me on my serve, I've got a good serve and it just sets him up perfectly at the net. He's got such a big wingspan, it's never coming past him off my serve. That's part of the way we complement each other.
“He's got such a big serve. I'm not the tallest guy, I'm just 6'1", and his serve is so big it helps me at the net as well. We really play off each other and I've been returning really well this year and he's been going for super big returns trying to pass these guys knowing that I'm going to make a lot of my returns. That's just part of the way we play off each other.”
Faveri’s singles’ season is another story. He’s undefeated, but has only played one match.
“My struggles in the lineup have been playing challenge matches against my teammates to get into the lineup,” he said. “We'll have a match against each other and whoever wins gets into the lineup and I haven't always won those. I know I'm capable of playing in our lineup, but if I don't beat my teammate, then they're going to get in. That's been part of my struggles, but there's a lot of pressure on those matches against a player you play against every day.”
Opitz and Faveri are the two most experienced players on Western Michigan’s roster of 11 players. While Opitz is in his fifth and final season, Faveri is in his fourth and second as team captain and that has put him in a leadership role.
“Last year we only had two freshmen, this year we have five so there's a lot of young guys. I think it's been really easy and also fun to lead these guys into college tennis,” he said. “Part of the role I embrace the most is bringing a lot of energy, being loud on the court and making sure these guys are pumped up. Some of the quieter ones, you've just got to get them engaged and get them going.
“Part of my role as well since I'm not playing singles right now, I'm an active third coach. You have a head coach and an assistant coach and you're allowed to assign a third coach and I'm taking that role so I'm on court on these guys’ bench when they're playing, helping give advice. I like to be more relaxed, say some things to put a smile on their face and take their mind off the big pressure situation that might be at play right now. Those are kind of little things that I do.”
While Faveri is enjoying it, being a tennis coach is not something that’s firmly in the marketing major’s future.
“I think that's probably a fallback career for me,” he said of coaching. “I think if things don't go the way I want them to, I can always come back and coach somewhere. Between sitting on the bench and being an active third coach, it takes a lot of energy out of you being engaged in all of their matches and trying to think of strategies that they can use to beat their opponent. It's definitely changed my way of thinking and I think it has also helped me because I can see the way their opponents are playing and the way they're playing and I can use that in my matches as well. I need to think more as a coach when I'm playing rather than beating myself up if I hit a bad shot or getting too happy if I'm up.”
As with every sport, COVID-19 had an effect. The 2019-20 season was cut short and players sent home to do their studies online. The 2020 portion of the 2020-21 was also cancelled and more importance was put on the regular season as the Mid-American Conference championship tournament was also cancelled.
“The biggest change is that there's no MAC tournament, there's no conference tournament anymore,” Faveri said. “Whoever wins the regular season is going to the NCAA tournament so we've had to be very focused on (our) matches to make sure we're winning them all and by bigger margins because if a team and us are tied 9-1 with our conference record, it's going to go down to how points you won and lost. It's a little more pressure on the regular season because we don't have that extra tournament to just go out and win. The regular season counts for both.”
However, there has been a plus to this year’s changes.
“Travelling, we actually got a bit of an upgrade,” Faveri said. “We’re on big coach buses now rather than taking minivans, so that's nice.”
As for his tennis future, Faveri said he probably has one season left and he plans to transfer to another school to take a graduate course in something like business analytics or finance management and play tennis there.
“Last year, since everything was cancelled, I have one more year of eligibility and I just decided, hey, I might as well use that,” he said. “I know if I look back in 20 years and I just went out of college in four and I had another year of tennis, why would I do that? I really want to make sure that I get one more good year of tennis in and I'm probably going to go to a school where I know I'm going to be playing high in the singles' lineup and definitely doubles as well, but primarily singles.
“I think it's just a good opportunity for a one-year stint and maybe go provide the championship mentality to a school that's really looking for something like that.”
And that will probably bring Faveri’s tennis career to an end, a career path in the sport that he started heading down when he was 7.
“I think that's how I want to end my career, going somewhere and being the guy on some team,” he said. “That will probably end up being it. I'm definitely not going to try and go professional. That's probably not realistic necessarily for me and also it's just a big grind financially and mentally. You're travelling around the world every week to somewhere new, by yourself. I'm not sure that's something I would necessarily enjoy even though I enjoy tennis quite a bit.”