Clemson, S.C. — The Clemson men’s tennis team is back in action in 2021, competing for the first time since March 7, 2020 following the discontinuation of last year’s spring schedule. Despite a premature ending to the 2020 campaign, the Tigers still had one of their best seasons in recent memory, finishing 7-6 overall and earning an ITA ranking as high as No. 40, their highest since 2015 and first since 2016. Clemson’s 2021 squad features a slew of new faces in addition to six returners. It also marks the second season under the direction of Head Coach Robbie Weiss.
“I am very excited to get started with our season,” said Weiss “It has been a long road from last March when our season was shut down to where we are now. We have a young team and our guys have not competed in quite some time, but they are all hungry and motivated to have a successful season. The team has been working incredibly hard on court and in the classroom and I could not be more proud of them. I want to thank the Clemson Athletic Department for all of their hard work getting us to a point where we can have our spring season. It is an exciting time for our program, and I can’t wait to start competing.”
The 2021 season brings several new faces to the program with five incoming freshman including the ITF’s 69th-ranked junior and the No. 2 recruit from Japan, Ryuhei Azuma. In addition to Azuma, the Tigers add Jorge Plans Gonzalez, Daniel Labrador, Spencer Whitaker, Matthew Pitts and Andrew Puscas.
As a spring enrollee, Plans Gonzalez joins the team with experience on the Spanish National Team while also claiming the title of Catalonian Junior Champion in each age division. Labrador, from Tampa Bay, Fla., defeated two top-ranked ATP players during his time as a junior and was ranked as high as No. 37 in the United States. While training at IMG Academy, Whitaker won two ITF doubles events and was named the sixth best recruit for the graduating class of 2018. Pitts was the 2019 recipient of the National Doubles Sportsmanship Award and was the No. 1 singles player in the southern section in 2018. Additionally, Puscas joins the program as a walk-on this season and hails from Chicago, Ill.
Six returners will also take to the court in 2021. Of those six returners, one is a sophomore, two are juniors and three are seniors.
Last season for the Tigers, junior Jacob Jahn notched a team best 17 wins in singles while going 17-7 overall. The South Carolina-native had a stellar 2019 fall tournament season, finishing with 13-2 marks. In the spring Jahn played the majority of his matches at No 5 singles where he went 3-3.
Yizhou Liu was undefeated last season in both singles and doubles in dual match play before undergoing season ending surgery in January. In singles, the senior from Nanjing, China went 4-0, claiming a 2-0 record at line two. Liu enters the 2021 season with an overall career singles record of 33-25. During the spring season, Liu and Jahn went 5-0 as a doubles team playing in the No. 2 position. Both Liu and Jahn earned a team best 15 overall doubles wins in 2020.
Carlos Kelaidis, who elected to return for a fifth season with the Tigers, posted 16-10 overall singles marks in 2020. Kelaidis played predominantly No. 5 singles, going 5-5. Last season Kelaidis was instrumental in a pair of come-from-behind victories against Princeton and Georgia State. Against Princeton, the match came down to the senior’s court as the Glyfada, Greece-native clinched the 4-3 win for the Tigers after defeating his opponent 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. Following a first set loss against his opponent from Georgia State, Kelaidis set his team up for victory, evening the score at 3-3 after a 1-6, 6-4, 6-0 win at line four. In doubles, Kelaidis posted a 14-11 overall record.
Teodor Giusca, of Bucharest, Romania, notched 14 overall singles victories last season. Playing predominantly in the No. 3 position, the junior went 4-3. Giusca, along with partner Kelaidis, earned a 10-4 record in doubles action and finished 8-3 at line three. Meanwhile, senior Jaxon Wiley and sophomore Tim Pitts posted 4-7 and 3-2 overall singles marks, respectively, last year.
This season Clemson matches up with another tough schedule as eight of their opponents finished within the ITA’s top-50 rankings at the end of last season. Additionally, five 2021 challengers finished within the top-25 while two finished within the top-10. The Tigers continue to play in one of the more competitive leagues in the NCAA, as seven of the Tiger’s eight top-50 ranked opponents hail from the ACC.
For the second year in a row, the Tigers will host a majority of their matches, including nine to start the season and 18 total. Clemson opens the 2021 season on Jan. 16 when it hosts Chattanooga and Wofford in the Duckworth Classic. Additionally, the Tigers will welcome South Carolina for Palmetto series action on Feb. 5. Clemson will not hit the road until Feb. 19 when they head to Florida to open ACC-play against Florida State. The Tigers will play their final home game on April 11 against Notre Dame and will be on the road for the regular season finale against Boston College. The ACC Championship is set to be held from April 21-25 in Rome, Ga.