March 26, 2012
It's tough to play against the best every week, but senior Akash Muppidi has done it since his freshman year with a smile and unprecedented success.
The captain of the Boston College men's tennis team, Muppidi has helped to put BC's name on the tennis map because of his stellar play and resulting individual accolades.
As a sophomore, he became the first Eagle to be named to the All-ACC team after compiling an impressive 19-5 (7-4 ACC) record while playing second singles. Last year, after making the transition to first singles, he took home All-ACC team honors again by finishing with a record of 10-12 (4-8 ACC).
"To see some of those names you're on the list with, it's a pretty cool honor," Muppidi said. "You get to play all these guys and beat them; I never thought coming into college I would have done this well. It's a real honor to be the first one in a program that's on the rise and I'm glad I was a part of getting it nationally recognized."
The accolades don't stop there: after his sophomore campaign, he was ranked No. 60 in the country in singles. Freshman year was successful as well. His 15-10 record was the best on the team and he was named the 2009 ITA Northeast Region Freshman of the Year for his efforts.
And Muppidi savors all of this success because he knows that none of it is guaranteed.
An aggressive baseliner who's adept at playing the angles and also has a powerful serve, Muppidi has seen the best that the ACC, which is arguably one of the best conferences in the country, has to offer. At the No. 2 singles position during his freshman and sophomore years, he was routinely pitted against players ranked from 30 to 125 in the country. After making the jump to first, he often found himself playing against players ranked in the top 25.
"It's a huge jump," Muppidi said. "You're playing the best week in and week out. Not to mention, the thing with [playing first singles] is that everyone's good. No matter who you play, it's always someone good."
"Some of the players you play go pro and you get to see them on TV," he added, with a laugh.
Disappointments come with competing against the players who end up on TV. And that's where competing with a smile comes into the picture. Muppidi struggled at first singles during the first half of his junior season, largely because he was putting so much pressure on himself.
"It took awhile after sophomore year because I had the expectation of doing as well as my sophomore year which is really tough to do," he explained. "I went in with that expectation of trying to win every match. But when you try too hard and try to win every single point as hard as you can and beat yourself up, it's tough to win."
But, once he loosened up and started to enjoy himself, he "caught fire" and went on a 4-1 run to close out the season. The four consecutive wins was his longest win streak of the season and featured a win over then-No. 66 Jamie Pulgar of North Carolina State.
"It took a little while to get used to but I really started playing some of the best tennis of my career at the end of the year," Muppidi said.
Muppidi's success isn't confined to singles even though he prefers the intensity of one-on-one competition. While he's off to a slow start in singles this year with a record of 5-7, he and his doubles partner, fellow senior captain Alex Skinner, have been on fire as of late and have a record of 6-5, but started 6-3.
In two recent matches, they took down two highly-ranked pairings. They beat North Carolina's No. 10 combo Drew Courtney and Jarmere Jenkins, 8-7(2), and came out on top of the No. 36 duo of Maros Horny and John Collins, 8-5, from Maryland.
"We've never played with each other until this spring and we've done really well so it kind of makes us wonder what we could've done before," Muppidi said, with a laugh. "But we're just trying to make the most of it and trying to lead by example being captains."
Being a captain means a lot to Muppidi, especially because he's helping to build a program that has recently been moving in and out of the top-75 teams in the country despite not having any scholarships to offer.
"The tennis program has really risen the last couple of year," he said. "We really are an impressive group in terms of our talent level and what we put in. It's fun to watch."
With the season winding down to its last matches, Muppidi wants to help his team win and end his own career with a bang. While last summer he planned on playing in some pro tournaments before having his plans derailed by an untimely hip injury, now he has few pro aspirations and plans on getting a job. But, just as it's tough to play against the best, it's tough to walk away.
"You never know, maybe if I catch fire and not lose a match the rest of the season, I'll give [going pro] a go," Muppidi said, with a laugh. "As of now, I'm just focusing on getting a job and trying to enjoy the last couple of matches."
Written by Jen Dobias