After finishing as the NCAA men's tennis singles runner-up in May, and with his team the runner-up to Virginia, one might think sophomore Will Blumberg had a bit of a chip on his shoulder heading into this year of collegiate tennis. That could not be farther from the truth, though, as Blumberg's focus is on what's next.
On Monday in Tulsa, Blumberg defeated Martin Redlicki of UCLA 6-4, 6-4 to win the ITA Men's All-American Championship title. Blumberg is the first North Carolina men's player to win the title. Blumberg and senior Robert Kelly finished their doubles title run together Monday just short, as runners-up to a team from UF, falling in a tie-breaker 7-6(6), 3-6, 10-7.
While waiting at the airport gate to return to Chapel Hill, Will answered a few questions over the phone.
You may not be playing in a team atmosphere right now, but how will this win help the team going into the indoor and then the spring season?
I think it gives us confidence. We’ve all been playing pretty good. A lot of the boys have a big tournament this week with regionals, so it gives the school a little hype and a little momentum. Hopefully, a lot of the guys can continue this throughout the week at regionals and use this as motivation, too. To continue to find success. Hopefully, it helps out a little bit.
What gets you through days like Saturday, when you have three matches to battle through?
Honestly, I don’t really know. I just kept my head down and kept battling. The first one was a tough one. Then the second one was pretty tough and then doubles were tough, too. But I’m a really big competitor. I’m a guy that loves to compete and when I’m on the court I’m going to compete my heart out. Once I step on the court, it’s ‘game on.’ I’m never half-doing anything.
How have you seen your game change and improve since you arrived in January?
I think I’ve matured a lot, on and off the court. That’s allowed me to make a lot smarter decisions on the court and I think I’ve gotten a lot more physical in how I play and stronger in my legs. I’ve been able to play the points I want and dictate the points the way I would like to. I think that’s been one crucial thing.
How has it been training with the Bryan Brothers?
Good. Bob is probably one of my closest friends in tennis, which has been nice. I mean, they’re by far the greatest doubles team of all time. Being able to spend time with Bob and run things by him, tennis and non-tennis, has been absolutely massive for me. I cannot thank him enough for being a mentor for me. I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with Mike and their family, so I’ve been lucky enough to feel super close to them. So I think that that actually has helped me a ton. To get close to them and learn how they train and how they go about their business and just how professional and incredible they are on and off the court is actually amazing.
How does this win in particular frame your mindset going into the season?
It’s all good. At the end of the day, I’m trying to be the number one in the world, professionally. Not just college. In college, it’s awesome, and it’s an incredible stepping-stone for me and it’s an awesome step for me to show that I’ve been working hard and it’s been paying off. I beat some big guys this week and that’s great for me. It’s like a little reassurance, but at the end of the day, it’s not about how I’m doing now, but how I’m maturing and playing. And hopefully, I can continue towards my goal. This is just another step for me.
Tennis is a very individual sport, outside of doubles. How is that transition from playing for yourself, or your partner, to playing for your team?
Tennis is a cool sport because it’s very individual but also there’s this huge team aspect. The fall is definitely much more for your individual play, but you always represent your team on and off the court with all your decisions. Hopefully, I represented the school and the team well this week. And in the spring, it is individual, but you’re working toward a team goal and for team points. Hopefully, we can continue this momentum and get into the spring and hopefully get a little redemption and win a title this year.
What are you looking forward to now with ITA Indoors and then the spring outdoor season coming up?
Right now I’m definitely looking forward to seeing my family, whenever that is, and taking a few days off to rest. But I don’t really know. I don’t know my schedule. I’ll have to sit down with Tripp [Phillips, assistant coach] to figure it out. When I do, I’ll define some goals, short-term and long-term, and that’ll be that.
The interview came to an end when the trio, Will, Robert, and Tripp were called to board their flight home.
As a result of the reaching the championship, Blumberg and Kelly earned a spot in the 2017 Oracle ITA National Fall Championships that will be held on November 1-5. The duo is anticipating tough competition and is looking forward to the battle ahead.