Where Are They Now: Catching Up With Izak Van Der Merwe
-Name: Izak Van Der Merwe
-Graduation Year: 2005
-Played for ODU from: 2001-2005
-Inducted into ODU Hall of Fame: 2014
-Career Highest ATP Ranking: 113, (94 doubles)
-Best ATP Win: Grigor Dmitrov / Jack Sock
Q: What are you up to these days?
A: After completing my MBA in Dec. of 2015 at University of Texas at Dallas, I started working at Texas Instruments in their corporate finance department.
Q: What are your favorite memories from playing at Old Dominion?
A: Traveling as a team and playing against many different universities was a great experience. That experience is unique to college tennis in the U.S. and it was a great way to grow as a person, gain exposure to different areas of the country and build relationships with fellow teammates.
Another highlight was reaching the semifinals of the NCAA tournament in 2005 and sharing that experience with my parents and friends that travelled from afar to come and support me.
Q: Have you gone back to see campus at all lately? If so, what are your thoughts?
A: Yes, I was on campus in 2015 and it really changed a lot since 2005. Old Dominion added many buildings to the campus over the last 10 years. It certainly transformed into a beautiful campus with many impressive buildings. The indoor tennis center is certainly one of those state of the art buildings that had a positive impact on the aesthetics of the campus. Not only this, but I’m sure the players enjoy competing in such a great facility.
Q: What do you miss the most about your college playing days?
A: Traveling around the country and competing against other universities and building camaraderie with your fellow teammates provided me with fond memories. On the pro tour, it was much more about the individual with only a few weeks a year you got to play in a team i.e. Davis Cup. The team environment of college tennis is definitely its strongest attribute and something that I’m very grateful to have been able to experience.
Q: How did ODU prepare you for life after school?
A: I learned a lot during my four years at ODU. I think the great thing about college sports is that it challenges you to balance athletics with academics. You quickly learn how to manage your time effectively and how to prioritize the most critical tasks in order to be successful. This dynamic puts you in pressure situations to perform in the classroom as well as on the tennis court.
Q: How did playing for ODU and college tennis help you succeed on pro tour?
A: I’m grateful for ODU providing me with a scholarship and giving me a platform to develop my talent as a tennis player. I believe the four years I spent at ODU was critical to my success on the pro tour. More than that, I believe the coaching I received from Darryl Cummings and John Hill over the course of my college career provided me with the best chance of achieve my dreams as a professional. I spent a lot of time with both coaches and it was important for me to learn as much as I could even though they had two different approaches to coaching. Darryl was always good at thinking outside the box for answers and ways to improve; John had a more straight forward way of instilling work ethnic and tenacity into my game. I’m very grateful for all the time they poured into my tennis career.
Q: Talk about your favorite aspects of playing tennis professionally.
A: Playing professional tennis was always my dream when growing up in South Africa. I can truly say I had a passion for the game and always felt energized by the sport. The process of training was always enjoyable to me and I think that is a reason why I excelled. When you find something you are passionate about and that excites and energizes you, you will always be able to overcome challenges and turn them into opportunities to improve.
Being on the ATP tour brought about many challenges beyond merely winning tennis matches. In order to be successful I had to learn self-discipline, how to travel and physically be ready to compete, manage your finances, and effectively be a travel agent for yourself. Having to take care of all the little things before even thinking about what you need to do to improve your game was a challenge, but that also made the successes so much better. It was a very rewarding career in the sense that you can see the fruits of your labor pay off in a very tangible way.
I was lucky enough to travel to all the contents (except Antarctica off course) to compete and this exposed me to many different cultures across the world and was certainly a highlight of life on the tennis tour. I think the greatest privilege was to represent my country in 13 Davis Cup ties. Playing for your country is an experience that few people get and I’m very glad for those matches where I could play not only for myself but also for my team and my country.
Q: Talk about how far ODU men's tennis has come.
A: ODU has done a great job in moving up the rankings in recent years and with the state of the art facilities and quality of coaching, I hope they can keep improving and making us all very proud. I’m always rooting for ODU sports to do well and I wish the Monarchs a very successful upcoming season. I look forward to seeing them make the NCAA tournament!
Q: Would you recommend young athletes to compete for college (ODU)?
A: Absolutely. I think college is a great stepping-stone for any athlete with aspirations of playing professional sports. But having said that, even the athlete does not want to pursue a pro career will find so much value in playing college sports. As I have alluded to before, but college sports mold you and teaches you lessons that will help you be successful later in life. With ODU going from strength to strength I would certainly recommend it to any prospective student looking for a place to learn, grow and improve.