Lipman's long road back

Nov. 5, 2012

It’s been a long road back for Ryan Lipman, a redshirt junior on the Vanderbilt men’s tennis team.

The Nashville, Tenn., native missed all of last spring due to a hip injury that he suffered during the 2011 fall season. A proven player on the court, he entered his third year with high expectations, but the injury forced him to redshirt.

Ever since he stepped foot on Vanderbilt’s campus, he has been mentioned as one of the nation’s top players. In 2010, Lipman was named to the All-SEC First Team and SEC All-Freshman Team, while also earning SEC Co-Freshman of the Year honors. As a sophomore, he was once again recognized as a First Team All-SEC member.

Naturally, his sights were set on continuing his excellent play as a junior and he fully expected to play during the spring season. In mid-February, he was practicing in the No. 3 and 4 spot in the lineup, but realized he wasn’t ready as the conference season approached.

“I just figured I would miss the first few matches and then start out in the lineup playing at the 3 or 4 spot to try and build my confidence back up,” Lipman explained. “I realized that my body just wasn’t ready. I discussed it with the coaches and we had to make a decision.”

That decision led to Lipman sitting out the entire spring season. As fierce a competitor as Lipman is, he knew it was the right decision no matter how difficult it was.

“It was really hard,” said Lipman said about missing out on the action. “Especially, seeing all the close matches the team was in. I think we had eight or nine that we lost 4-3 and I really felt like if I was in there, I’m not saying we would have won all of them, but I think we would have had a much better record.”

However, he didn’t waste the learning experience that was put in front of him. This was a chance for him to study the game from a different perspective. Here was a chance to still help the team, without playing on the court.

“I gained a lot of valuable experience by sitting on the sideline and coaching the guys and just seeing the other side of the game,” Lipman said.

Vanderbilt head coach Ian Duvenhage would agree that his redshirt junior was still beneficial to the team without playing a match.

“I think it was very hard for Ryan to watch his teammates compete without being able to participate, but Ryan has one of the all-time greatest attitudes and he was a vocal and enthusiastic cheerleader for the team every day,” Duvenhage said. “The rest of the team respects him immensely and he was a leader even though he couldn’t play.”

This past summer, Lipman began playing in tournaments again. As one would imagine, there was rust and the feeling he wasn’t back to his old self just yet.

Lipman said he won one tournament, but didn’t feel like he was playing like he used to or the way he wanted too.

After the first two fall tournaments of the season for the Commodores, Vanderbilt was preparing for the USTA/ITA Ohio Valley Regional. Lipman said he had a decent week of practice, but something just wasn’t clicking.

“I internalize things a lot and I usually don’t like to open up a lot, but we had a real honest meeting the day before the tournament started in the hotel room with the team,” Lipman explained. “I just opened up and told them that I wasn’t really sure of myself. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to get back to the way I was before I got hurt. I didn’t know if I would ever be the player I was.”

That meeting with the team just might have been the turning point for Lipman this season. It could have been the spark he needed because he would go on to dominate his competition at the USTA/ITA Ohio Valley Regional.

For the tournament, Lipman went 6-0 in singles play and is now 8-2 through three fall tournaments. In his six matches over the weekend, he needed three sets only once to win a match. That match was in the round of 16 versus the No. 1 seed Anthony Rossi of Kentucky (6-3, 6-7, 6-4).

His path to the title was anything but easy, as he defeated the No. 1 (Rossi), No. 2 (Mikelis Libietis of Tennessee) and No. 3 seeds (Gonzales Austin). In the semifinals, Lipman was even dealt with playing his own teammate, Austin, which he defeated by default after the fellow Commodore went down with an injury in the second set.

In the championship match, Lipman, the No. 12 seed, defeated the No. 2 seed Libietis in two sets, 6-3, 6-4. Lipman will now head to the ITA National Indoor tournament in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., Nov. 8-11.

“It was an incredible moment,” said a relieved Lipman. “Right after I hit that last serve and the guy (Mikelis Libietis) missed the return, I was full of joy. I really didn’t think I was going to go play at nationals. I fully expected AJ (Gonzales Austin) to go and for me to be sitting at home watching and cheering for him. I found a way to win six matches and now I’m back and on my way to New York.”

Coach Duvenhage is more than happy to make the trip to New York.

"He's back, Ryan Lipman is back," said an extremely pleased Coach Duvenhage. "He played a superb match against a good player. It was one of the most disciplined matches I've ever seen him play, so I am really proud of him."

He will represent Vanderbilt among the nation’s elite as he tries to continue his stellar play.

"I couldn't be happier for him because two weeks ago he had some doubts, but I think he dispelled any and all doubts," Duvenhage said. “It is inevitable after such a long layoff to have doubts, but Ryan feels he is a much better player today than he was 18 months ago and he proved it last weekend by winning the Regionals.”

Whenever Lipman would doubt himself, he always had his coach there to pick him up.

“He was very helpful,” said Lipman of his head coach. “He was positive the entire time and would tell me to just stay positive if I ever got down on myself. He was always there to build me up. He was very encouraging.”

If an Ohio Valley Regional Singles Championship is any indication of how this season might go, then Lipman could be on to something special.

After doubting himself, Lipman realizes that his old self might still be in there after all.

“I guess I proved myself wrong.”



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