Looking across the net and all around him, junior Eero Vasa wasn’t at any ordinary college tennis match last weekend. Around him were some of the world’s most talented young tennis players. Despite being the youngest in the field, Vasa competed at a high level throughout the tournament.
Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 3, nearly 1,400 miles away, Vasa, along with freshman Vladislav Melnic, travelled to Oklahoma University to compete in an International Tennis Federation Futures event. This tournament is a part of a much larger series that takes place around the world.
These events represent the lowest level of professional tennis. Despite this, they are extremely competitive and draw players from around the world. Typically, Future events have large qualifying rounds which allow unranked players to break through onto the pro tennis circuit. Along with ATP ranking points, these future tennis stars are competing for $25,000.
Although Vasa and Melnic are college athletes, they are still able to compete in the professional tennis circuit and they even have world rankings. Going into the tournament, the duo had ATP rankings of 1,247 and 1,166 respectively. After their performances, the two can expect those numbers to get smaller in the coming weeks.
In the round one of qualifying, Melnic took on Virginia Tech’s Abraham Asaba. Representing Cornell and his home country of Romania, Melnic defeated Asaba, who is from Ghana, by a score of 6-1, 0-6 [14-12].
Melnic looked to keep it running in the second round against Nathan Ponwith, a member of the Arizona State men’s team. Despite being ranked nearly 400 spots lower than Ponwith, the Cornell freshman gave the Sun Devil a valiant fight losing 6-4, 7-6(8) in the process.
“Considering the fact that this was my first pro tournament on hard court since January 2018, it wasn’t bad,” Melnic said. “It could have been way better.”
Melnic, a freshman, has not even played in an official collegiate match yet. Since coming to the U.S. from Romania, he’s had to make lots of adjustments. For these athletes, finding the balance between their sports and academics could be tough, but Melnic is up for the challenge.
“Regarding the travel schedule, it is a bit challenging, because you are likely to miss some classes,” Melnic said. “You have to be sure to always send the homework and complete each assignment.”
Although it was an early end to the week for Melnic, his sights are already set on the rest of the season. Like his teammates, he is driven to bring the Red success for the upcoming year.
“I am really looking forward to working hard and giving 110 percent every single practice,” Melnic said. “The chance that I have been provided with is once-in-a-lifetime.”
On the other side of the qualifying bracket, Vasa looked to make a name for himself and he did not disappoint. In the first round, Vasa took care of Stefano Tsorotiotis of Oklahoma 6-2, 7-6(1). In the next round, Vasa met a familiar foe in Texas A&M’s A.J. Catanzariti. The Aggie got the upper hand last year against Vasa in Canada last year at another Futures event. Vasa avenged the previous loss by cruising to a 6-3, 6-0 victory.
With a spot in the main draw on the line, Vasa took on Alexander Cozbinov, a player for the University of Nevada Las Vegas. After losing the first set, Vasa dug deep and was able to turn it around. He came out on top 4-6, 6-3 [8-10]. In the 48-man qualifying draw, only six made it to the main draw. Vasa was one of two international players to advance.
Many would have been satisfied with this performance. With three days of phenomenal tennis under his belt, Vasa now had his sights on something much larger. Taking on Leighton Allen, a high schooler from Austin, Texas, Vasa won the match 7-5, 6-1.
In the round of 16, Vasa faced his toughest opponent yet. Playing No. 4 seed Sekou Bangoura, who is ranked No. 344 in the ATP, the Cornellian’s sensational week ended in a 7-6(4), 6-1 defeat. Bangoura has been on the professional tennis circuit for over eight years and has a tremendous amount of experience that is unmatched by Vasa’s.
Vasa’s match wrapped up a long week for the Red. Both Vasa and Melnic will leave Oklahoma with their sights turned towards Dartmouth and their invitational tournament on Oct. 4.