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Izak van der merwe ('06) Takes Game To a New Level

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: June 25, 2008
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June 25, 2008

Three months ago, Izak van der Merwe dropped in at Old Dominion to check on his alma mater's new tennis facility and sharpen his game for a couple of weeks in preparation for pro events in the United States.

Today, he'll take to the courts at Wimbledon for one last workout before he dives into the world of Grand Slam tennis on Tuesday in his opening-round match against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain.

Van der Merwe, 24, earned his way into the 128-player main draw of the event known in England as "The Championships" by winning three qualifying matches last week. The South African breezed through the qualifier, dropping a lone set.

Grass, a surface on which he'd never played before this summer, seems to suit his game.

"It's really soft under your feet and the ball naturally bounces lower than it does on a hard court," said van der Merwe, whose first name is pronounced EE-sack. "But I'm a serve-and-volley player, so it fits my game. I'm just determined to get to the net as much as I can."

The 6-foot-2 van der Merwe joins 35-year-old Tzipora "Tzipi" Obziler, who played at ODU in the early 1990s and has become somewhat of a regular in Grand Slam events, in the season's third major. Obziler, from Israel and ranked 120th in the world, will face 47th ranked Alisa Kleybanova of Russia in her first-round match.

The novelty of ODU having players in both draws is not lost on van der Merwe.

"Maybe a Stanford or a UCLA has players in both the men's and women's draws," van der Merwe said. "But for ODU, it's something special."

Ranked No. 282 in the world, van der Merwe has cashed checks worth a modest $10,811 in singles and doubles combined this year. As a first-round competitor at Wimbledon, he'll nearly double that, pulling in $20,222.

And that's just if he loses. For each match won, van der Merwe's take will increase nearly 70 percent. The financial reward is not lost on him.

"It's going to make this summer a lot more pleasant and make it easier to perform," van der Merwe said. "If I fly to an event, the plane ticket alone might be $1,500. So the last qualifying match was really nerve-wracking. I had a day between matches to think about it and knew everything that was at stake."

While at ODU, van der Merwe advanced to the semifinals of all three national championships: the NCAAs, the All-American Championships and the National Indoors.

Since leaving ODU in 2005, he's played professionally on five continents, traveling to South America, Africa and Asia as well.

This, however, will be his first time in the spotlight. It's also the first time ODU has had a player in the men's draw of a Grand Slam event.

"I don't know a lot about Garcia-Lopez, but I've been getting scouting reports," van der Merwe said. "I'm serving well and the biggest challenge will probably be nerves. But I'm going to try to play loose on my return games and try to get a break here or there... and enjoy myself."

Rich Radford, (757) 446-2463 or rich.radford@pilotonline.com

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