The 2009 Penn men’s tennis recruiting class — the current juniors — was ranked No. 21 nationally. Then-coach Nik DeVore thought the class’ five players had the potential to make an impact immediately.
The star of that recruiting class was Rob Wong. The class’s lone five-star recruit, Wong was a three-time Connecticut state singles champion in high school and was ranked as high as No. 2 in the country in doubles.
However, during his first two years at Penn, Wong made little impact on the tennis team. Freshman year, he played just one singles match all spring, and despite his strength in doubles, he played only one Ivy League doubles match.
Wong was frustrated and his relationship with DeVore became contentious.
“I felt like I was on a team without any direction,” the Riverside, Conn., native said. “I think that was the reason why I lost my motivation.”
By the spring of 2011, Wong’s sophomore year, he had quit the team in order to focus on his studies.
“Tennis just wasn’t as fun for me as it was during my junior career,” he explained.
For the first time since he was six years old, Wong took a break from the game.
“When I took [time] off, it was kind of a release,” the current junior said. “Tennis felt like a burden.”
After coach DeVore resigned unexpectedly last April, Wong told the Daily Pennsylvanian that he was “definitely considering coming back in the fall,” and was hoping Penn would find a coach with “more experience.”
When David Geatz was named the Quakers’ new head man in June, Wong did not face a difficult decision.
“I knew [Geatz], and I knew he was a good guy,” Wong said.
In fact, the pair have known each other since Wong was in high school and Geatz was the coach at Cornell.
“I tried to recruit him, but I didn’t get him, so it actually worked out good for me,” Geatz said.
After leaving Cornell in 2010, Geatz became the Director of Tennis at Greenwich Country Club, located just 10 minutes from Wong’s house. As a result, the two practiced together this summer, meeting once or twice a week to help Wong get back into shape.
“I hit with him this summer, and my impression was this kid was even more athletic than I thought, but he was in worse shape than I would have thought,” Geatz said.
Still, he was confident that Wong could step in and start for the Quakers.
This spring, Wong has been key to the Red and Blue’s success. He is currently 4-3 in singles and 6-4 in doubles. Wong thinks one of the main reasons for his improvement is that he is actually enjoying tennis again.
He says he realizes how much he missed the team and that he now looks forward to going to practice.
Geatz believes Wong has improved greatly, but sees no reason why Wong won’t continue to develop his game.
“I think Rob’s come a long, long way from where he was before,” Geatz said. “Every week I see something that looks a little better.”
Geatz said Wong could be a star for the Quakers come this Ivy season if he continues to work hard and believes there is no limit to his potential.
“That kid is the most athletic kid and the quickest kid I’ve ever had in 34 years of coaching,” Geatz said. “If he could give me four or five hours a day, he’d be on the [pro] tour.”
With Wong back in the lineup, the Quakers will once again be contenders when the Ivy League slate kicks off against Princeton this weekend.