Koepfer finds footing away from clay

Will Potts, Staff Reporter

It’s not the hint of a German accent that lingers when he speaks nor is it his devastating two-handed backhand, a dangerous weapon in his on-court arsenal; Dominik Koepfer, the star of the Tulane men’s tennis team, stands apart from the best of his field for a different reason. Among the top 20 collegiate tennis players in the country, he is the only one who does not wear the colors of a Power Five conference school.  

The 21-year-old senior, hailing from Furtwangen, Germany, currently ranks 10th in the nation. That spot came from a dominant 2014-15 season campaign, where he finished with a career best record of 28-7. Strong showings at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s National All American Championships and the National Indoor Championships also cemented his place in Tulane tennis history. He is the only Green Wave player to reach at least the quarterfinals of both these events.

Inevitably, numerous accolades have tagged along with these successes. Koepfer was named an ITA Southern Regional Player to Watch and the Louisiana Player of the Year. But for him, the off-court attention is of little importance.

“Well it’s obviously nice getting awards but it’s not helping my game,” Koepfer said. “Sometimes it gives you a little bit of a boost but it’s not the reason that you’re feeling confident on the court.” 

In a sport where parents often try sculpting prodigies out of their toddlers with daily practices and full-time coaches, Koepfer enjoyed a more natural-paced introduction to the game. He did not begin playing more than twice a week until he was sixteen.

Despite his infrequent playing, the young Koepfer still managed to make a name for himself in the junior circuit as his doubles team finished third in the 2010 German Championships. 

After graduating from Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium, Koepfer, with a scholarship offer from Tulane, made the 5,000-mile journey to New Orleans. Though having visited the United States previously, he had never played tennis at an American facility. Not only would he have to get acclimated to a new language and a new city, but a new court surface as well.

“I had never played on hard courts before I came here,” Koepfer said. “I always played on clay. In Germany I would play on clay in the summers and carpet in the winter. My first tournament here I couldn’t get a win, but I worked my way into it and by now I really like it.”

Since getting comfortable with his new surroundings, Koepfer’s game, like his English, has only gotten better.

He attributes his increased talents on the court to the work required when playing for a Division 1 program.

“I got stronger,” Koepfer said. “I got faster. I got fitter than I ever had been in the past just because we practiced every day, once or twice a day. Playing every day gave me a lot of confidence in my strokes.”

That confidence is already evident this early in the 2015-16 season. At the Oracle/ITA Master’s Tournament held in Malibu, California on Sept. 18, Koepfer made a strong run to the semifinals with a come-from-behind win over Georgia’s No. 16 Wayne Montgomery in the quarterfinals.

After dropping the first set 7-5, he battled back from being down a break 3-5 in the second and third sets, winning them both 7-5 to advance. In the following round, he fell to TCU’s No. 15 Cameron Norrie. 

For Koepfer, the semifinal round exit hits close to home. 

“I’m looking forward to making the finals of one of the national championships,” Koepfer said. “I lost twice in the semis to the guys who won it.” 

Though he has personal goals for the season, as the top singles player, Koepfer understands the responsibility he has to his teammates. 

“When I was a freshman I always looked up to Idan, who was the number one back then,” Koepfer said. “I think the younger players are doing that same thing, looking at what I’m doing on the court. If I’m getting mad they may wonder what’s wrong — it definitely affects them. So I’m trying to be a leader on and off the court, and trying to help them do what they have to do to succeed.”

In the meantime, he hopes his abilities on the court will lead to a continuation of last year’s success.

After almost a decade of competitive tennis, Koepfer has a pretty good understanding of these strengths, “fighting no matter what the score is … and probably my backhand.” 

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