Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

Tennis star hands in season of 18 singles wins, 1 blistering loss

The only opponent the University’s best male tennis player hasn’t been able to top in 19 matches this season is a foe called “bad luck.”

DU’s Adam Holmstrom has beaten the 13th ranked college player in the nation, Pepperdine’s Andre Begemann, and he’s humbled the former 12th-ranked player, Bojan Szumanski of Texas Tech.

But Holmstrom couldn’t overcome a blister on his playing hand that came from shoveling snow. Pop went the blister, and down went the man who at 18-1 this season is regarded by many as the best tennis player DU has ever had.

The bad luck blister struck in February during a match against James Ludlow, BYU’s No. 1. Heavily taped and unable to feel the grip on his racquet, Holmstrom lost the match in a 7-5 third set after being ahead 5-2.

“You can’t believe how guilty I feel,” laments head tennis coach Danny Westerman, who had asked his players to clear the Stapleton courts of snow so the team could practice. “But he never once blamed his hand or blamed me.”

Holmstrom — with unflappable confidence that teammates say is a hallmark of the Eskilstuna, Sweden, native — took the loss in stride.

“I had my chances,” he says. “That’s the way it is sometimes. The next day I played Utah and was down 5-2 in the third set but won 7-6, so it can go either way.”

Typical Holmstrom, says Westerman. Calm. Focused. A gifted player who dismantles opponents with workmanlike efficiency.

All the hallmarks of a future professional, says Westerman, himself a star at Wisconsin and a former U.S. top-100 touring pro who came to DU as head coach in 2006. Westerman says Holmstrom, a 23-year-old business economics major, has the talent, ability and “a really solid chance” of developing into one of the top 100 players in the world after graduating next spring.

“He has every shot in the book. He has one of the biggest serves out there. He can hit the ball hard off both sides of the court on his forehand and backhand. He can serve and volley. He can play defensive and use his athleticism. He hits such a clean, hard, heavy ball that he doesn’t let you breathe.”

All in a day’s work for the 6-foot-4-inch Holmstrom, who admits he’s excited, but cautious, about the possibility of going pro. For now, he cares about improving his game and helping the team.

Besides, he says, it’s tough enough to finish in the top 20, which would make him DU’s first-ever tennis All-American and earn him a bid to the NCAA singles tournament in late May.

“My goal is to do the best I can and to try to play as well as I can,” says the modest Holmstrom, currently ranked 18th. “I take one match at a time. If the team wins, that means more to me than an individual win.”

That’s music to Westerman’s ears. In college tennis, teams play three doubles matches and six singles. Winning two doubles matches earns one point. Each singles win brings an additional point. The team that tallies 4 points wins.

“If we win our doubles point and win at No. 1 and No. 2 (singles), we have a great shot to win (4 points and) the match,” Westerman says.

That advantage is a big part of why the 65th-ranked Pioneers finished the season 13-7 and were runners-up in the Sun Belt Conference Championships, losing the final to 27th-ranked South Alabama.

The team failed to earn a bid to the NCAA team tournament, but Holmstrom received an individual invitation based on his ranking, solid play in the Sun Belt tournament and being named all-conference first team singles. Holmstrom will be seeded in the top 16 when the tournament draw is released on May 22.

Since September, Holmstrom is 32-5 in singles and 83-17 in singles overall in three seasons at DU.

“When Adam plays his best,” Westerman says, “he can beat anybody in the country.”

An earlier version of this article originally appeared in The Source, May 2007.

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