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ND Men’s Tennis: Team’s MVP shows vast improvement in game

Sam Gans | Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Very rare is the case that a player who goes 23-4 in one season has extremely noticeable deficiencies in his game. But Irish senior Sam Keeton was one of the exceptions two years ago when his serves and volleys were not up to par.

Since then, however, he has worked hard to correct those flaws — and succeeded — Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said.

“Two years ago, he was our team MVP,” Bayliss said. “He did that primarily off the strength of his forehand and backhand — his groundstrokes. He did not have a very good serve and [he was] not very good around the net and they were clearly his deficiencies. Last year, he improved in those areas. His serve got a little better and his volleying became somewhat functional, enough that he would come in a little more and put a few balls away when he created an opportunity for himself.”

Those improvements were on full display two weeks ago at the Napa Valley Tennis Classic, where Keeton won his first three matches to advance to the quarterfinals before bowing out of the tournament. In particular, his early straight-set victory against Tennessee’s Jarryd Chaplin demonstrated his new approach.

“In Napa, Chaplin was getting into the net on him all the time and I finally told [Keeton], ‘You have to beat [Chaplin] in,’” Bayliss said. “That’s something he’s never done in his life and he did.”

The Kansas City, Mo., native missed most of his junior season due to injury, hindering his ability to work on improving his skills.

“I tore an abdominal muscle so it actually made it hard to work on my serve, because that was an area I couldn’t do because of the injury,” Keeton said. “So I had to take three or four months off without serving so it was hard to improve on it during that time. But now I’ve had a pretty long string of being able to work on it so I’ve gotten a lot better.”

Now that he’s further improved the physical aspects of his game, Bayliss said he hopes to see an improvement in Keeton’s mental confidence.

“Now, he still doesn’t always believe in [his serve and volley] enough, and he’s got to really take the ball and run with it,” Bayliss said. “He’s like the guy who swims 60 percent of the way across the pool and is afraid he can’t get to the other side, so he swims the other 60 back and then realizes, ‘Wow, I clearly had enough in the tank to do it.’ I want him to really believe in his serve and turn it into a big weapon, because if you watch him serve now, he’s got the makings of, I think, a great serve, if he can keep it up.”

While Keeton showed his newly-formed skills at Napa, this upcoming weekend will put them to the ultimate test at the Midwest Singles/Doubles Championships in Columbus, Ohio. The finance major is hoping for a good showing there, as well as during the rest of the season, he said.

“I want to be in the high line of players that’s going to win consistently,” Keeton said. “I think we need somebody who’s going to win up top so I want to be that person. Ideally I’d be ranked somewhere in the top-100 and just able to win a lot of matches and then hopefully I can make an appearance in the doubles lineup and help out there, as well.”