Serving up success
Andy Leber posts the greatest season ever by a UTA tennis player
Before beginning his service motion, Andy Leber gazes across the net at Pepperdine's Al Garland, a consistently ranked top five collegiate tennis player.
Leber's almost casual racket preparation looks deceptive, then his serve booms across the net at 126 mph. No slouch at this game, Garland blocks the shot back to midcourt, but the return is short. Way short. The UTA senior unleashes an easy putaway forehand to the open court.
The two shake hands. Game point, set point, match point. It's a big win in a big tournament-the All-American Championships in Stone Mountain, Ga. And at that moment last October, the victory seems an anomaly. Leber, then ranked No. 70 nationally, upsets a player who's among the favorites to win a national collegiate championship. (For a while this past season, the Pepperdine player held the No. 1 slot.)
But similar experiences will be repeated many times, the booming serves and wicked forehand of the tall Austrian becoming a nightmare for opponents. Leber will finish the regular season ranked No. 5 nationally and will have risen as high as No. 2. His only two regular-season losses will come against two top 10 players (against whom he also will have scored wins). In a single season, he will register wins against 16 nationally ranked players.
Tennis has two seasons in a school year. Leber lost only two fall matches, then turned on the heat in the spring, cranking out 24 consecutive singles wins.
It's an impressive display, so much so that Leber was named the ITA/Ted Farnsworth National Senior Co-Player of the Year by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, sharing the honor with Javier Taborga of Notre Dame. The award goes to an outstanding senior player who has improved greatly throughout his collegiate career.
Just exactly how Leber made the transition from a good player-he won better than 80 percent of his matches in four years at UTA-to a great player is something the geology major finds difficult to define.
"I always enjoyed tennis-thought I could be a very good player-and confidence is certainly part of it," said Leber, who first picked up a racket when he was 4. "But it seemed like all three years of my experience and match play all came together this season."
Experience does count, but UTA tennis coach Patric
Dubois believes that Leber doesn't give himself enough credit.
Add to that a booming, consistent service that a lot of pros would covet, an excellent forehand and a deceptive backhand capable of either underspin slice or topspin. In tennis, speed kills, and Leber is considered remarkably agile for someone his size.
His mind is similarly quick. Though his collegiate tennis career is complete, he plans to wrap up his academic goals with a combined bachelor's/master's in geology. He's a good student with grades consistently above 3.0 despite so much time devoted to tennis.
"I'm one of those people who isn't happy unless he has two or, better yet, three life options," he says with a laugh. "I'd really like to use my degree and focus on hydrology projects in my country or Europe."
UTA's tennis teams, incidentally, are as successful academically off the court as they are on. The squads have earned academic All-America honors five of the last eight years, a distinction that requires a minimum overall 3.2 grade-point average.
And Leber's tennis future?
"I wouldn't rule out a professional or coaching career, but the reality is that there are about 1,200 professionally ranked players in the world," he said. "It's very expensive to break in without financial assistance, and even if you get it there's no guarantee you'll end up where the money is-the top 200 rankings or better."
Leber is currently coaching Austrian woman professional Evelyn Fauth, a world-ranked member of that country's Fed Cup team who also made it to the third round of last year's U.S. Open.
Leber has also already had inquiries about his willingness to qualify for the Austrian team in both Davis Cup and Olympic play.
"I'd love to do one of those or both," he admits. "It would be a dream come true. That's one of those two or three options I definitely want to keep open."
Leber's highest-ever national ranking for a UTA player has not gone without notice. Though UTA men's and women's teams have dominated Southland Conference play in recent years, the teams are now earning national recognition.
"I'd say inquiries about playing here have tripled since Andy's success," Dubois said. "We've picked up three strong European male players and an excellent doubles specialist from Baylor University who made it to the last NCAA tournament. We've also signed three women players who are ranked No. 1 in their countries."
Dubois hopes his recruits can be equally successful in a Mavericks uniform. Thanks to Andy Leber, the bar for success has been raised a few notches.