April 1, 2009
By Larry Watts
The way Moritz Baumann sees it; he's getting the best of both worlds at the University of Wisconsin. The junior from Inzlingen, Germany is able to get his education and play tennis at a highly competitive level at the same time, an option that wasn't available to him back home.
"It was either play tennis or go to school," he says. "It is much too difficult to try and do both because if I went to school, I was on my own to arrange coaching and all my practice schedules. Here, in the United States, my practice times would be set by the coaches and I could arrange my class schedule around them."
Accompanied by his father, Baumann, who had been ranked in the top 20 in Germany in under-16 and under-18 play, took recruiting visits to Virginia, Kentucky and Wisconsin. The combination of academics and the tennis program along with the lure of playing for head coach Greg Van Emburgh, who enjoyed several years of success playing doubles on the professional level, put the Badgers at the top of his list. However, because he still had to improve in qualifying test scores, Baumann didn't enroll until January of 2007.
Raised on clay courts in Germany, Baumann says one of the biggest transitions he had to make was learning to play on hard courts in the United States.
"It's definitely a different feel and it took some time getting used to," he says. "I have found it to be a faster game, especially on the indoor courts, and you can use more angles and drop shots. But the returns are also much quicker."
Despite his late arrival, it didn't take him long to start making an impression. Playing primarily No. 1 and No. 3 singles, he chalked up a 17-6 record, 8-2 in conference play, and became only the second Wisconsin player in history to be named All-Big Ten as a freshman. He won eight of his last nine matches, posting a 5-2 record at the No. 1 slot.
"I didn't expect to be playing No. 1 so soon in my career," he says. "I started out at No. 4 and then kept moving up. It was difficult starting out because I didn't have the fall season under my belt."
Baumann held down the No. 1 position all of last season, when he compiled an overall record of 19-14 and 12-10 in dual meets. He became the first Badger since 2002 to qualify for the singles draw in the NCAA Championships.
Although he spent a brief time at No. 2 singles this year, Baumann has been money in the bank for the Badgers. He has rolled up a 24-4 singles record and has yet to be beaten in a dual meet, where he is 12-0 at No. 1 and 6-0 at No. 2. Recent wins over No. 32. Sakteth Myneni of Alabama and No. 22 Brett Helgeson of Notre Dame have lifted him to No. 31 in the national rankings.
And in doubles play, Baumann has put together a record of 22-5. With partner Marek Michalicka, the Badger duo is 21-4 and carries a national ranking of No. 15.
"This is just a great opportunity for me to play the top guys in the Big Ten and so many other strong colleges," he says. "There really isn't too much difference between playing No. 1 and 2. I'm just fortunate in that I'm hitting the ball well now.
"Every week it seems like I'm playing a ranked opponent, which I like because it gives me a chance to improve my ranking. I learn a lot from every match and I think the more experience I get, the better I am getting."
Playing doubles in every match is also another adjustment Baumann has had to make in his transition from playing in Germany, where he rarely played doubles.
"It's so much faster and quicker," he says. "We (Wisconsin) actually practice it a lot because the doubles point is so important in the team game. We spend a lot of time working on our volleys and communicating with my partner.
"In junior tennis, it's all about yourself, but I have really grown to like the doubles. And when we did play doubles in Germany, it was almost all from the baseline. This has been a whole new experience for me and I really enjoy all the cheering that goes along with a match."
Baumann says it took awhile to get used to the travel schedule involved in playing Big Ten tennis. For instance, the Badgers would drive to Champaign for a night match with Illinois, then hit the road immediately afterward to play Indiana the next afternoon.
"Combined with studying, getting back late Sunday night and then going to class Monday morning, that was a tough transition," he says. "I might have to travel to practice in Germany, but it was nothing like this."
The Badgers, who finished second in the Big Ten last year, are currently ranked No. 24 in the country. Although they dropped their first two Big Ten matches (Illinois and Indiana) of the season, they did bounce back to defeat Notre Dame for the second time this year. Before their initial win, Wisconsin had lost 18 straight matches to the Fighting Irish.
"That was a big milestone for us," he says. "To beat them twice gives us a lot of confidence because they have such a good team. We believe we have the players to make it to the NCAA Championships this year, but we have to stay focused and I don't think we were focused when we lost to Indiana."
Away from the court, Baumann, a consumer science major, says he had to hit the ground running upon his arrival at Wisconsin.
"I had to get used to speaking English all the time," he says. "The first lecture I went to was all English, so it was a little difficult. College life is certainly a lot different, but I have learned a lot of things."
But he refuses to get used to ice in his drinks or fast food.
"They put ice in every drink here; you don't get ice in drinks in Germany," he says. "I always order my drinks without ice.
"And I'm not a big fan of burgers or fast food. I have found a lot of good international places to eat in Madison. I like Thai food and I have found a very good restaurant that serves Mediterranean food up here."
On the tennis court, there appears to be no ceiling to Baumann's game.
"Between my game as a freshman and now, there is really no comparison," he says. "My game has really improved since coming to the U.S. Over the next few semesters I am here I hope to keep improving. I am anxious to see how high I can get."