The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Men’s Tennis: Hometown hero bursts onto scene

Kate Gales | Thursday, March 9, 2006

He hits hard in doubles and has become a consistent point in singles.

As the Irish tennis program has its best season in years, Ryan Keckley is having a breakout year of his own.

“I love to compete, and being on a team who craves that win as much as I do makes tennis at Notre Dame worthwhile,” Keckley said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Keckley is playing at the No. 4 spot in the singles lineup for Notre Dame and is usually one of the two players paired together in No. 1 doubles, most recently Sheeva Parbhu.

“I was recruited for doubles specifically,” Keckley said. “In high school, as a junior tennis player, I was significantly better in doubles than I was in singles. This could be because of the style of game I play – I’m more of a serve and volleyer and up in the court … from the doubles standpoint, this helps tremendously.”

Keckley thrives on what he called “the fast pace, ‘in your face'” style of play that doubles requires.

“[Irish] coach [Bobby Bayliss] always says [doubles play] is a sprint,” he said. “There’s no time to think of what you’re doing wrong or right, you just have to play.”

But after spending some of the summer in Europe, Keckley returned to South Bend prepared to hone his singles skills, and has spent the season working his way up the lineup. Specifically, he worked on his forehand to improve his overall success.

“Our assistant coach has really been working on changing my forehand from a closed stance to an open stance since my freshman year,” Keckley said. “I’m just now reaping the benefits. … I’ve benefited drastically from a few years of coaching.”

Keckley is a native of South Bend and graduated from St. Joseph’s High School, across the street from Notre Dame’s campus.

“I was so close to home, but as everyone knows Notre Dame’s like a bubble, you don’t stray away from campus very much,” Keckley said. “Overall, I guess you could say I didn’t like Notre Dame as much my freshman year as I do now. I’ve kind of gotten over the whole “townie” thing and it is nice to have your parents so close even if you don’t see them very much.”

Although he looked at Northwestern and Virginia, Keckley stayed at Notre Dame for several reasons.

“I thought that Notre Dame was the best fit for me regarding both tennis and academics with the connections and the networking that Notre Dame offers,” he said. “It was hard to pass up the opportunity.”

At the age of three, Keckley started to play tennis and followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Jeff, who played collegiately at Dayton.

“My brother picked up a racquet when he was eleven and as a younger brother I wanted to follow everything my brother was doing,” Keckley said. “I can say if it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t be playing or wouldn’t be playing at this high of a level.”

Keckly said the team concept is important to this year’s Irish squad.

“The guys are really close,” he said. “We spend a lot of time together, especially in the spring semester since we’re on the road so much. They’re a great group of guys who are always looking to put the team ahead of themselves. … I think we just realized the team’s potential for success this year and for years to come, and realized that in order to be great, the team must come first.”

As a leader, Keckley’s teammates also admire him.

“I look up to him as a junior, especially because he’s Mr. August [in the Men of Notre Dame calendar],” said teammate Santiago Montoya. “He’s been playing really well and I look up to his tennis skills, but I also look up to the other part of his life.”