By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Another year, another freshman phenom for the University of Virginia men’s tennis team.
In 2010-11 it was Alex Domijan, who won the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s All-American singles title in the fall and helped UVa finish second at the NCAA tournament in the spring.
Virginia’s top newcomer this year is Mitchell Frank, a graduate of Annandale High. Frank has been at UVa for less than a semester, and he’s already won two major singles titles: the ITA All-American and the USTA/ITA National Indoor.
In the 33-year history of the ITA All-American, only four freshmen have captured singles championships. Stanford’s Scott Davis was the first, in 1980, and Stanford’s Ryan Wolters won in 1995. Then came Domijan and Frank.
“It’s really remarkable what Alex accomplished last year,” Boland said Wednesday, “and then for Mitchell to follow it up with such great success this fall.”
Frank, who turned 19 last month, is only the fourth player to sweep the major ITA singles titles in the same season and the first since Harvard’s James Blake in 1998-99.
“Not too bad so far,” Frank said with a smile Tuesday when asked about his first few months of college.
Boland said: “Mitchell really deserves all of the succes that he’s had thus far. He wakes up every day and his goal is to become the best tennis player that he can develop into, and he really seems to embrace the journey and has a tremendous perspective on the whole process. I know he’s excited about the success he’s had, but at the same time, much like Alex Domijan was last year, he’s extremely humble.”
Franks, a 6-foot right-hander, was ranked No. 1 nationally among incoming college recruits this fall. Born and raised in Annandale, Frank had an illustrious junior career during which he traveled extensively in the United States and abroad, competing at the French Open, the Australian Open and Wimbledon, among other tournaments.
Those experiences notwithstanding, Frank said, “I never really seriously considered going pro [out of high school], because I felt like this was the best path for me, even though a couple of my friends had turned pro.”
UVa appealed to him from the start. The first college match he ever saw in person, in 2005, was the Wahoos’ win over Minnesota at the Boar’s Head Sports Club. He later returned to Charlottesville to watch a match in which Somdev Devvarman, who won two NCAA singles titles during his UVa career, played for Boland’s team.
“It was good to see that they’d produced someone of that caliber out of here,” Frank said, and that was another selling point for the ‘Hoos. He also seriously considered Duke and Texas A&M, but ultimately Frank signed with Virginia last November.
“I felt like this was the best way for me to develop and become a great tennis player,” Frank said, “and also academically it’s unbelievable here. I’m really glad I chose it.”
Annandale was the only high school Frank attended. His final two years there, however, he took on-line classes while establishing himself as one of the best juniors in the world.
“It’s pretty rare, but I felt like that was the best course for me,” said Frank, who shares a dorm room at UVa with another Annandale graduate, Dan Doan.
His tennis career took him out of town “the equivalent, probably, of every other week,” Frank said. “I’d get to see my friends when I was back home, but you’re always traveling to a new place. I loved doing it, because obviously I love playing a sport, and it was exciting to see different places that you probably wouldn’t have if you were just a regular student.”
His first coach was Vinh Do, a teaching pro at Fairfax Racquet Club. Beginning at age 11, Frank worked with Do for about three years, then began training with Vesa Ponkka at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md.
Do and Ponkka helped mold a player who possesses rare qualities.
“Just his competitive spirit,” Boland said when asked what makes Frank special, “his love and passion for the game, how he has an insane level of focus and ability to keep his emotions in check throughout the entire match, regardless of the adversity that he’s faced.
“He’s just a true competitor in every sense of the word. He continues to work on making himself a more complete player and developing his skills, but his greatest weapon is in between the ears.”
At UVa, Frank joined a program that returned such standouts as Domijan, Jarmere Jenkins and Drew Courtney. In the spring, the Cavaliers are expected to contend again for the prize that has eluded them: an NCAA championship.
That will something of a new experience for Frank. His travel schedule kept him from playing on the team at Annandale High, but Frank has embraced the Cavaliers’ goals, Boland said.
“Tennis is naturally an individual sport, but I think so many of these kids really look forward to sharing their success with teammates and friends when they go to college,” Boland said, “and Alex and Mitchell are no different. They’re extremely unselfish and humble people, and Mitchell really has done a tremendous job transitioning into his first year. He’s really embraced the opportunity to be part of a team and share his success with others, and not only try to become a better tennis player but make everyone else around him better, too.”