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Nathan Ponwith seizes a second chance in the senior season for ASU men’s tennis

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The senior is currently undefeated in singles after playing just four games last year due to an injury and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nathan Ponwiths First attempt in a senior season with ASU men’s tennis did not go as planned.

The former top-20 ITF junior and SEC freshman of the year was sidelined for much of the 2019-2020 season due to a nerve injury in his shoulder, one such head coach Matt Hill said took several months to make a correct diagnosis.

The injury limited him to just two games in both singles and doubles. After having been really hesitant on his first return to court, he said Hill, Ponwith went 0-4 in total.

The COVID-19 pandemic eventually ended the collegiate tennis season and also suspended playing on the professional tour, where Ponwith planned to start his professional career.

It was hard to see a man who worked so hard and brought his level to a level that we all felt ready to go on the tour and get hurt, Hill said. And then, because he was working so hard to get healthy, cut off the season and then quit the pro tour too.

Conditions left Ponwith at a crossroads, but despite various advice, he decided it was best for him to return to ASU.

Nate made it very clear that he wanted to come back and, in his eyes, he wanted to end the right way, Hill said. He’s from here. He grew up here. So he wants to leave here with a legacy that he’s done something really special. He doesn’t feel like he has achieved that yet.

The results have justified his decision so far, as Ponwith was recently named Pac-12 Player of the Week and is currently 6-0 in singles and 5-1 in doubles.

It’s always nice to get an award or recognition here and there, but it’s mostly fun just playing, Ponwith said. I feel like I’m playing pretty well. There is still a long way to go.

But Ponwith didn’t just waltz in his early-season success. Last summer and December, he trained for several months alongside two top professionals and good friends of his: world champion 53 Tommy Paul and world number 38 Reilly Opelka.

To see him working on the training field at the pace they are operating at, he thought, wow, usually we’re all out of court joking, Hill said. These guys don’t play. They go to work.

Thanks in part to that experience, including a handy serving tip from Opelka, one of the world’s most explosive servers, Ponwith returned to the field this season as an improved player across the board.

I’ve grown a lot, said Ponwith. Since my injury to where I am now, I think my service, and I think my return and only my physicality on the field has improved.

Hill added that Ponwiths finishing at the net has also developed significantly.

(He’s grown into it) how to anticipate and see the track and when to climb the track and take the track from someone, and even have the confidence and comfort to get to the net and finish a point, Hill said. That was something he didn’t do at all when he got here.

Those skills are especially valuable in doubles, where Ponwith was dominant with freshmen Max McKennonand won four consecutive games as a pair before McKennon sustained an injury.

“He helps me do some ins and outs on what to do and what not to do,” said McKennon. “Playing doubles with him in my freshman year in college is great; it has helped me and will certainly help me in the future.”

While Ponwith has never missed competitive fire, his drive could be taken up a notch given last season’s accident, Hill said.

It’s definitely fuel for him, Hill said. He is very motivated and very passionate. But that’s how that man works. He has a different bike than most guys.

For Ponwith, who plans to join the professional tour after this season, the seriousness of the moment and the opportunity he’s been given has not been lost.

I don’t have the time or the luxury to go out and play, Ponwith said.


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