Penn men’s tennis may not be best known for cranking out young superstars, but after this year, it just might.
Freshman Kyle Mautner has barely played half a season for the men’s tennis team, but he is already taking on the top players in the Ivy League, having risen to the No. 1 spot for the Red and Blue.
And with a potential bid for the NCAA singles tournament already in the cards this year, some are wondering how he ended up at Penn instead of a national powerhouse.
“I chose Penn mostly for the incredible balance between athletics and academics, and also because of how good of a coach [men’s tennis coach David] Geatz is,” Mautner said. “I’ve known him since I was 12 years old. I was also really leaning towards Wharton in high school. It’s such an incredible opportunity to go to such a prestigious school.”
The ambitious freshman has sprinted out of the blocks, having worked hard over the winter season. Mautner wasted no time in preparing for the season, practicing from the moment he arrived on campus. The Penn standout has some lofty goals to chase this spring.
“I have a personal goal of being the Ivy League Rookie of the Year and making the NCAA singles tournament,” Mautner said. “That’s what I’m working for, and I’m looking forward to hopefully getting there.”
For a Division I freshman new to college athletics, some would say that such goals are a little overambitious. Geatz, on the other hand, would disagree.
“He wants to be an All-American,” Geatz said. “He wants to make it to the NCAA Tournament this year. He could do both this year. He needs to pick up a couple wins and make it through a couple rounds of the NCAAs, but he could be Penn’s first All-American in a long, long time.”
So there is a lot of hype built up around the big left-handed player. But what exactly are his strengths?
“He’s tough,” Geatz said. “He’s a real competitor. He has a great left-handed serve, and he’s just got bite. He’s just a tough guy to play — he never goes away.”
Mautner agreed with Geatz’s analysis, citing his competitive spirit.
When asked about his biggest strength, the freshman responded, “My competitiveness. Buckling down on the big points, and finding a way to expose my opponent’s weakness and just get the job done. I really focus on trying to play aggressive, and it’s working out really well.”
Tenacity like Mautner’s is hard to find, as Geatz explained. Tam captain Vim De Alwis shared similar praise.
“He comes to practice and works hard every day,” De Alwis said. “He’s ultra-competitive — I mean, he never wants to lose. I think that’s why he’s so successful as a freshman playing in the No. 1 spot.
“Opponents know that they have to go to war to beat this guy,” the captain continued, “and it’s awesome to know that we’ve got a guy like that on our side. It helps the whole team work harder in practice.”
While Mautner’s coach and teammates alike have hailed his next-level attributes, the freshman still has work to do in order to become elite. His dream, after all, is to compete professionally after college.
The Greenwich, Conn., native and Rafael Nadal enthusiast has a large frame built for a star tennis player, but has yet to fill it. As De Alwis explained, he may be a tough, smart player, but he is not yet a star athlete.
“I know he’s working hard to become a better athlete by going to the gym and working on his speed,” De Alwis said. “He’s a big lefty. Having that left-handed spin is a huge advantage, and he uses that really well. He’s really tough on the court and a smart player.
“I think mentally, he’s there,” De Alwis continued. “Maybe the one thing that’s holding him back is his physical attributes. But he knows that, and he’s working really hard on that. If he can improve that part of his game, he can be a tremendous player.”
As the season progresses and as he seeks a trip to the NCAA national championship, Mautner is certainly going to work on growing into his frame and becoming a great athlete, but balancing fitness and keeping up performance levels mid-season can be difficult, so any great progress in physicality will likely be made in the offseason leading up to his sophomore year.
Then, however, the sky is the limit.
“He’s gonna be great,” Geatz said. “He already is great! It’d be hard for me to say who the best player in the Ivy League is, but Kyle is right up there, and he’s only a freshman. The kid is committed. He’s getting better. He could be one of the best players who’s ever played at Penn.”
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