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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.; For the first time in Penn State men's tennis history, four players have achieved rankings on the ATP professional tour; bringing their professional experience to the Nittany Lions and head coach Jeff Zinn and associate head coach Paul Tobin this season.
Alp Sentay (Izmar, Turkey) comes to Penn State this year as one of the top players in Turkey. He has achieved an ATP ranking of No. 1110 in singles. He also has the honor of representing Turkey as a member of the Turkish Davis Cup Team, which currently competes in the Europe/Africa Zone of Group III.
Christos Antonopoulous (Athens, Greece) is a sophomore who was trained by his father and is one of the top junior players to come out of Greece. Antonopoulos was ranked in the top 100 ITF juniors in the world and held an ATP ranking of No. 1249.
Both Sentay and Antonopoulous are newcomers to the Nittany Lions this season. Two returning Penn Staters are ranked by the ATP heading into the new year as well.
Constant De La Bassetiere (Reims, France), a junior, is Penn State's returning starter at No. 1 singles from a year ago. He reached a high of No. 46 in ITF junior world rankings and is currently ranked No. 1212 in singles and No. 821 in doubles on the ATP tour. De la Bassetiere is coming off a successful summer where he qualified for the main Futures draw seven times in singles and advanced to the finals three times in doubles, capturing a tournament title in Belgium.
Christian Lakoseljac (King City, Ontario, Canada) is a sophomore who was one of the top juniors in Canada achieving a national ranking of No. 8. Lakoseljac, who started at No. 2 singles for Penn State all last season, teamed with De La Bassetiere at No. 1 doubles last season and has an ATP ranking of No. 1049 in doubles.
"To have four players on the team with ATP points is definitely the direction we want for the team," said Coach Zinn. "It shows we are recruiting players that want to play at the next level and it helps us in recruiting those types of players for the future. To win championships not only in the Big 10, but also nationally, you have to have players that play or have played at the ATP level. These four players are not intimidated by anything because they have seen everything on the tennis court."
"Penn State is a unique brand with a strong reputation not only in the United States, but also around the world," added associate head coach Paul Tobin. "Our tennis program has gained much attention abroad and finally getting the recognition we deserve. This makes our recruiting much easier."
Zinn and Tobin recognize that recruiting international players proves to be difficult at times. With scheduling demands, it's not always easy to travel abroad to watch them play, so much of the coaches' time is spent studying matches and scores. In addition, with Penn State competing with the nation's best teams for the world's best players, competition in recruiting is fierce.
"College tennis has changed so much in the last 15 years and it has become so much more competitive," continued Zinn. "You have to find the best players either domestically or internationally that fit these models and also want to achieve a high academic standard in college. There aren't many of those individuals out there but you do your best to find them and make a connection."
"These players are also being highly chased by many other top programs; we have to do a better job demonstrating why Penn State is the best option. It's not always easy and getting them here on visits is very critical to getting them to commit," said Tobin.
With Penn State's players competing internationally, the transition to the NCAA game can be interesting. Many professional events outside the United States are played on clay courts, which is different from the hard and fast indoor courts used at the collegiate level.
"It's a lot different," said De La Bassetiere. "It's faster. You have to go faster on the ball; you have to hit the ball more flat. But I think the coaches and the staff do a great job working on all the tactics we need to develop on the hard court."
The players with professional experience are confident that the skills they've acquired will help lead Penn State men's tennis to a successful season. With four members of the team having professional rankings in both singles and doubles their ability to handle pressure situations and close out matches has a significant impact on the team.
"The more you play the better you become," said Antonopoulos. "I encourage everyone on this team to try and play in the professional circuit, just for a couple tournaments to get that experience."
The Nittany Lions will kick of their fall tournaments at the Princeton Invitational on September 22nd. Keep up with the Penn State men's tennis team at GoPSUsports.com. For continued updates throughout the year, make sure to `like' our Facebook page at Penn State Men's Tennis and follow our twitter @pennstateMTEN.