By refusing to get negative at the National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, Dominik Koepfer created the most positive result for Tulane men’s tennis in 60 years.
Koepfer, a 5-foot-11 senior from Furtwagen, Germany, cruised through the draw last week in Flushing, New York, without losing a set, joining a list of Tulane national singles tournament champions that had not expanded since Jose Aguero did it in 1955.
Koepfer said his own attitude was the difference between that victory and his loss in the final of the ITA All-America Championships earlier in the fall, when he faded against Virginia’s Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and won only two games.
This time, he won the first five games against Andre Goransson of California, then broke serve late in the second set to win 6-1, 7-5.
“I had a different mindset than I did last time,” he said. “I played awesome tennis, my best so far. I couldn’t handle all the pressure last time. I was nervous from the start.”
Koepfer’s victory capped 31/2 years of constant improvement since he arrived at Tulane in the fall of 2012. He spent his freshman season working his way up the lineup after starting at the No. 5 singles spot. He settled in at No. 1 as a sophomore and went 15-5 at the top spot.
Last year, though, he made his real breakthrough, rising to No. 12 from No. 98 in the rankings and becoming one of only three players to reach the quarterfinals of the ITA All-America Championships and the National Indoor Championships.
He entered his senior season with the real belief he could be a singles champion.
“The mental stuff improved the most,” he said. “I prepare myself different for matches, and I act different during the match. I don’t do negative self-talking that much, and it helps a lot. My first two years I was really negative on court. I fixed that and am going in the right way.”
Tulane tennis coach Mark Booras knew he was getting a player with plenty potential when Koepfer signed because of his natural athletic ability. The key was getting to him become more aggressive on the court and not rely solely on his excellent defensive skills.
“He can play several different game styles,” Booras said. “This yea,r we said use your defense when you need to and use your consistency when you need to, but you have the offense. Let’s use it at the right times because if you don’t, your opponent will.”
Koepfer’s next goal is to lead Tulane to a berth in the NCAA team championships this spring for the first time since the program returned in 2008 after a three-year hiatus because of Hurricane Katrina. He also will take aim at the NCAA outdoor championships, the event Aguero won 60 years ago.
Regardless of what happens, they can’t take away the title he won in New York. The semifinal and final matches were broadcast on ESPN3, with Patrick McEnroe serving as a commentator and players doing on-court interviews in between sets.
“It was really exciting,” Koepfer said. “It was new to me, but it was a lot of fun. I had a great experience there.”