By Cody Soto
When junior Julian Lenz tosses a tennis ball in the air to serve, there is a significant amount of pressure. He sits at the top of the lineup for the second-ranked Baylor men’s tennis team, and the Bears depend on him.
The No. 1-ranked Lenz is the top-ranked player in NCAA men’s tennis, but with every honor comes a price.
“It’s much easier for people to play me because they don’t have to lose anything,” Lenz said. “I’m trying to stay up there (in the rankings) of course, so I’m trying to win every possible match and that’s the only goal.”
The Grünberg, Germany native entered the season as the No. 1 player, but he has moved up and down the rankings throughout the season. In that time, he’s knocked off Mackenzie McDonald of UCLA and Virginia’s Ryan Shane, both of which were ranked No. 2 at the time. The talented junior has only lost two matches during the 2015 season, and he isn’t letting those setbacks get in the way of improving his game.
“You have to improve your game as much as possible, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Lenz said. “I’m trying to play my best tennis at the end of the season.”
Every play by Lenz has heart, from the moment the ball touches the racquet until the point is decided. His style of game is oriented around his capability of controlling his physical and emotional mentality. That is what makes him a dynamic player, head coach Matt Knoll said.
“We recruited Julian and told him that this is exactly what we had hoped for him,” Knoll said. “We knew that we was a good junior player and we would help him here, so it’s gone how we thought it would go. He continues to improve, and that’s why he’s here.”
Although Lenz has the abilities to match up with any player in the NCAA, his constant drive for perfection has his coach stumped at what to do sometimes.
“The tough thing about Julian is that he’s better than he thinks he is,” Knoll said. “It’s a little bit frustrating for me because I’m not the most patient man in the world, but it’s been fun and satisfying to see how his process has unfolded and the way he has turned himself into a really good player.”
Lenz’s focus during a match is very evident. Not only does he expect every ball he hits to be a game-winner, he exuberates confidence throughout the game.
But just how does Lenz bring that focus and energy to every match? Over the past few years, he has learned which matches he needs to play, and that’s doesn’t always mean playing the most matches.
“I made the mistake in the beginning (of playing) all of these doubleheaders, and towards of the end of the season I was exhausted, especially mentally,” Lenz said. “Last year wasn’t perfect, but I’m learning from the mistakes that I’ve done in the past. I know my body and know what I need to do in order to perform well.”
If Lenz takes a day off from competing, he isn’t worried about the outcome of the match. The depth of the Baylor men’s tennis squad will pick up right where they left off, Lenz said.
“Everybody has really come to play for the whole team and give their best,” he said. “We have nine guys competing for spots in the lineup, so that helps within the team to have good practices because everybody is trying to get a spot.”
Lenz is only a junior, but his teammates have developed an abundance of respect for him.
“That’s a huge advantage for us having him playing at the No. 1 spot,” senior Diego Galeano said. “Julian being able to beat anyone in the country gives the team confidence; we have the confidence that he can win every match.”
Lenz is on track to earning another All-American honor with the way he has played this season, and several other awards are within his reach. As good of a player he is, he still has the jitters every time he plays.
“I’m still kind of nervous once I start because I never know what to expect,” Lenz said. “I just try to get the win no matter how it looks. I give it my best, and hopefully every single time I’ll get the point.”
Baylor still has several key matchups left before the postseason. Although the ranking is an honor, the work doesn’t stop there, Lenz said.
“I wanted to be one of the best players in college, so it was a milestone that I reached it in the fall and now,” Lenz said. “It’s not like I’ve reached the top of the mountain though. I just have to keep going, keep working.”
Lenz has opportunities left to make himself an even better player, and with his determination, it will lead him to his goal of being a professional tennis player, Knoll said.
“Julian is serious about tennis,” Knoll said. “He’s getting better all the time; he’s a guy that’s got a real fire for trying to become a pro, and that’s the direction he’s headed. He’s just scratching the surface.”