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UND men's tennis off to best start of Division-I era

Gerhard Sullwald of South Africa is undefeated at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles for the Fighting Hawks.

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Gerhard Sullwald of South Africa is UND's top men's tennis player.
Russell Hons / UND athletics
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GRAND FORKS — It took UND men's tennis player Gerhard Sullwald nearly two full days to make the trip from Grand Forks to his home in South Africa this summer.

It was well worth it.

He spent two months unplugging from tennis.

Sullwald went to a sold out rugby match between the national teams of South Africa and Wales. He took a trip to Cape Town to visit friends. He went on a safari with his family. And he spent time on the farm where he grew up dabbling in sports from swimming to cricket to rugby to tennis.

"I just kind of recharged with my family," Sullwald said. "The family aspect is big for me. Going home definitely makes a big difference for a lot of international students. It helps so much if you can spend time with the family and see everyone again."

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Sullwald then returned to Grand Forks with a different mindset.

"I was super recharged," he said. "I wanted to practice way more. I started doing the right things like eating healthier. I started seeing our sports psychologist Erin Haugen, who has definitely been a big key. I'm just honestly enjoying everything way more.

"I'm enjoying the tennis and the grind of it all. Definitely, for me, it was spending time with my family and recharging. Now, it's time to go all out and give it all I have."

It has worked.

Sullwald has been a force at the top of the lineup for the UND men's tennis team, which is off to a 5-0 start, its best since becoming a Division-I program in 2012-13. The Fighting Hawks have beaten Montana, Montana State, Army, Rider and Colgate.

Individually, Sullwald is a perfect 10-0 to start the season.

He's 5-0 at the No. 1 singles position, including a 6-2, 6-0 win over Montana State's Nejc Sitar, who was the Summit League newcomer of the year as a rookie at UND in 2019.

"He's just a really good all-court player," UND coach Tom Boysen said of Sullwald, who also won the Bulldog Invite at Drake University in the fall. "It's hard to find a place to attack him. He absorbs pace extremely well, which you need at the No. 1 spot. You're not always going to outhit every opponent you play. He holds his position at the base line. He's added to his game in the last six or seven months, too.

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"He's much more willing to try to win a match on his own than last year. He's much more willing to come to the net to finish points. He's more willing to hit out on his backhand. He's put himself in more of attack mode as a returner. His willingness to add elements to his game is probably what's putting him over the top."

Sullwald also is 5-0 at the No. 1 doubles position, teaming with Nikita Snezhko.

"We're both confidence players," Sullwald said, "and at the moment, we both have confidence."

Journey from South Africa

Sullwald grew up in a small town, Warmbad, in South Africa. The town has four hardcourts, but Sullwald didn't use them a lot, because he played so many other sports.

A tennis coach traveled there once a week to teach.

"I had a 30-minute practice once a week until I was 13," he said.

That's when a new coach recognized his potential and convinced his parents, Etienne and Ilze, to send him to a boarding school an hour away in Pretoria. Once he was there, he zoned in on tennis.

"It was ultimately a good decision for me," he said.

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Sullwald was recruited to play Division-I at Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Fla., where he spent one season before entering the transfer portal.

From there, UND assistant Kyle Anderson recruited him to come to Grand Forks. Sullwald is now in his third year with the UND program.

The Fighting Hawks have managed to keep their core together, despite the era of frequent transfers.

Their top five players from last season are back in Sullwald (Week 1 Summit League player of the week), Cian McDonnell (Week 2 Summit League player of the week), Snezhko, Edmond Aynedjian and Riley Odell.

"I think they bought into the fact that it could be a pretty special year," Boysen said. "They wanted to really make a statement. They wanted to be the team that really put UND on the map. They enjoy each other and didn't want to break up the team when a lot of them have one year left. I think they saw it as an opportunity to go out on a high."

UND tennis homestand

At Choice Health and Fitness
Friday
1 p.m. — UND women vs. Creighton
5 p.m. — UND men vs. Creighton
Sunday
10 a.m. — UND women vs. Air Force
3:30 p.m. — UND men vs. Gustavus

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UND tennis player Gerhard Sullwald hits a forehand at Choice Health and Fitness.
Russell Hons / UND athletics

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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