For the second time in three years, 22-year-old Vusa Hove is the area’s No. 1-ranked male tennis player. The University at Buffalo senior was undefeated in winning three local tournaments this year, the Muny Men’s Singles Championships and two tournaments at Miller Tennis Center.
Matt Kane, former Niagara University star, played two superb matches against Hove. The first was in the semifinals of the Muny Championships. At 6-6 in the first set Hove found himself trailing, 1-4, in the tiebreaker (first to win 7 points).
“I knew how badly Matt wanted to defeat me and he was playing exceptionally well,” Hove said. “When you’re the No. 1 seed there is a great amount of pressure on you. I tried to stay in the present and focus on playing without pressure.”
Hove said he knew if he lost the next point he would be down by 1-5 and would be in severe trouble and was determined to play the rest of the set “as if my life depended on it.”
From then on Hove played consistently on each point and waited for Kane to make mistakes. Before you knew it Hove was up, 5-4, and the pressure was now on Kane. Kane kept playing aggressively; but to no avail. He lost the tiebreaker and then the second set to lose the match, 7-6, 6-1.
Once Kane lost the first set it was evident that he was getting tight and losing his confidence. Even though he lost the match he had played superbly in the first set. The problem is that if you give Hove an opening your chances are slim and none in winning the match. In a tournament a week later Hove defeated Kane, 6-4, 6-4.
Hove was extremely complimentary in his assessment of Kane’s tennis game. “Matt plays an all out aggressive game. When he is playing well he is a very tough player to play against,” he said.
Kane replied, “Vusa is so mentally and physically strong. He is like a human backboard and his ground strokes are hit powerfully.”
Hove’s excellent game is complemented by his outstanding physical shape. He checks in at a solid 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. The extra weight allows him to hit the ball extremely hard at all times. His incredible foot speed is due to his workouts four days a week in which he does speed drills and weight training up to three hours a day. He also plays hard singles 2½ hours a day six days a week.
To concentrate for entire matches as Hove does is mind boggling. Hove stresses that he listens to certain types of music before each match. He is also a firm believer in imagery. “I picture myself as Mike Tyson in his prime,” he said. “I want to appear extremely confident at all times and put in my opponent’s head that he will have to play his best tennis to defeat me.”
However, don’t think for a moment that Hove isn’t magnanimous on the few occasions that he loses. “Even though I do not like losing I am realistic that it is going to happen," he said. “Even Federer and Nadal don’t win every match that they play. If I lose I will congratulate my opponent and realize that I will have to work harder to defeat that player next time.”
Hove gives much of the credit of his success to his coach Lee Nickell, the men’s tennis coach at UB, and the opportunity to play in the highly competitive Mid-American Conference. “I love playing on the UB team and the team aspect,” Vusa said.
This past season one of the highlights of Vusa’s tennis career occurred in the MAC team semifinals against Ball State. The teams were tied, 3-3, and Vusa was playing the final match to decide who would advance to the finals. The score was 1-1 in sets and 4-4 in the deciding third set. Vusa won, 6-4, in the third set.
“The pressure was incredible at 4-4 and I have to admit it was one of the few times in my tennis career that I was very nervous," he said. “Winning for the team was the most wonderful feeling in the world.”
Unfortunately, UB lost to Western Michigan in the finals.
Vusa has some long-term goals that he hopes to achieve. He is striving to attain the best record that he can in MAC play this season and then play in Future events and Challenger Events.
“By far, Vusa is the hardest working player I have been associated with in ten years and his results have been outstanding,” said Nickell.
Two more titles for White
Ken White, an Elma resident, continues to amaze local followers of the game. Last weekend, he and Derek Acker, a South Wales resident, teamed up to win the 40 & Over Doubles in the National Senior Tennis Fiesta Bowl in Scottsdale, Ariz.
They defeated David Buterbaugh of Paradise, Ariz., and Gary Hattendorf of Tempe, Ariz., 6-1, 6-4, in the finals. The 50-year-old White also won the Men’s 50 & Over doubles with partner Paul Smith of New Zealand, who formerly played Davis Cup for New Zealand. They defeated Steve Dawson of Carlsbad, Calif., and Sam Moore of Telluride, Colo., in the finals, 6-1, 6-4. The dual wins were his 14th and 15th national age group titles. Dawson earned a measure of revenge by defeating White, 6-2, 6-4, in the Men’s 50 & Over Singles finals.
White has been the area’s top ranked player three times and has been ranked in the area’s top ten for almost three decades. He is the only All-American in tennis in UB’s history and is also in UB’s Sports Hall of Fame.