Sven Vloedgraven is living proof that nice guys do finish first.
The nationally ranked tennis player has raised Binghamton University’s level of competition while earning the respect of his rivals. The School of Management senior also pulled a 3.9 GPA last fall.
How did he score that hat trick?
“A busy schedule keeps me on top of things, so I use my time well,” he says. “I don’t have a TV.”
Vloedgraven, 22, earned Binghamton its first men’s singles title in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Northeast Regional championship as a junior in fall 2009, then repeated the victory last October.
“It’s amazing what he has accomplished — back-to-back championships in a region that has almost 40 different schools in it,” says Adam Cohen, Binghamton’s head coach for men’s tennis.
Glenn Michibata, men’s tennis coach at Princeton University, calls Vloedgraven “the fairest competitor” because he constantly gives away his line calls, as well as applauds his opponent’s success.
“If he wins, it’s because he’s the better player. Sven’s disciplined and stays calm under pressure,” Michibata adds.
Those rivals who mistake Vloedgraven’s courtside composure and integrity for weakness are in for a rude awakening.
“Sven’s a tiger between the white lines. He makes us earn every point. He’s also a terrific role model who is nice both on and off the court,” says Bid Goswami, men’s tennis coach at Columbia University, the only doubles team to beat Binghamton, although Vloedgraven prevailed in singles. “He’s a tremendous ambassador for college tennis.”
Vloedgraven left his home in the Netherlands to attend Binghamton University, attracted by its academic reputation as well as Cohen’s goal to take the men’s tennis squad to a higher level.
“I wanted to be on an ambitious team,” Vloedgraven says. He quickly adapted to the more rigorous training schedule — two hours a day versus four hours a week in high school — as well as the sheer number of games, which in 2009 included 46 singles and 38 doubles matches.
Collegiate tennis includes a fall outdoor season that focuses on individual competition and a spring indoor season for team championship play. Each year, Cohen and Vloedgraven targeted a different technique to work on, such as his serves. With improved play came increased confidence and a gradual climb in the standings, so by spring 2011, Vloedgraven earned a national ranking of 55, the highest of any tennis player in Binghamton’s history.
“Sven wins more on smarts and guile, by putting the ball in the right place,” Cohen explains. “He has a high shot tolerance, which means he can play long rallies without losing confidence.
“He believes in his skill set. Sven can alter his game if necessary, but often he wins his matches by just being more solid off the baseline and playing the big points better,” he adds.
Senior Gilbert Wong relies on his doubles partner’s consistent, precise play, which allows Wong to put his own speed and net reflexes to best use.
“It’s about trust. I feel confident he will hit the ball well,” Wong says.
A key semifinals doubles match against University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) in the America East tournament in 2009 illustrates why Wong and Vloedgraven make such a formidable team, Vloedgraven says.
“It was an important match because we could qualify for the finals. At the tournament we were down 7-2 (in an eight-game pro set). But then we changed our tactics and we came back to 7-7, which doesn’t happen very often in doubles. Although the doubles point match was already decided, it showed how well we can come back after being down,” he adds.
As he wraps up his collegiate tennis career, Vloedgraven is getting ready to move on to his next challenge: He starts an accounting job in New York City following graduation.
“He’ll be a tough customer out there,” Cohen says.
–By Katherine Karlson