Nick Andrews is in an all-too familiar position. He finds himself down early, 0-2, in the first set against Robin Cambier of Oregon, and the Saturday crowd at the Hellman Tennis Center is anxious to see the senior captain get back in the game.
A quick serve catches him off-guard, but he makes a decent return. Decent. Cambier drops a short cross-court shot and slows his pace, satisfied that no return is possible. Andrews isn’t so sure. A mad dash and an elegant dive get a return that kisses the net on its way over. Cambier, startled, still manages to slam the weak return into a 30-0 lead. And yet, the home crowd cheers loudly in support. Because they, like Andrews, know it’s just one point in one game, set and match.
Andrews relishes the opportunity to be the comeback kid. If anything, his entire tennis career can be described as some combination of being a hardworking overachiever and perennial underdog. But despite the labels, there’s one thing Andrews does consistently: give it his all.
His time at Jesuit High School in Folsom, Calif., suggested an incredibly bright career. He was a five-star prospect, having accrued a 7-1 record against similarly ranked recruits. Despite that, he only received limited interest from schools because he had only played in three tournaments. No other top-100 recruit played in fewer tournaments than he did.
As a result, Andrews only lined up scholarship offers from Santa Clara and UC Irvine. The Northern California tennis star, however, was not deterred in the least. He had garnered enough interest from Cal to warrant a spot on the team — and Cal coach Peter Wright and the staff made it clear to him that if he played well enough, he could earn a scholarship.
“I knew that if I practiced hard enough, I could get the scholarship and then go from there,” Andrews says.
It certainly wouldn’t be easy — he joined a slew of other talented players that regularly comprise Cal’s highly-ranked team. Nevertheless, he resolved to translate effort into success.
“Ever since he’s been a freshman, Nick’s been a battler and a fighter,” Wright says. “If he takes a loss, he learns from it and comes back even more motivated, and we love him for just that reason.”
Andrews made his debut in fall 2008 determined to prove any doubters wrong. And he succeeded — for a while. He won his first five individual matches before embarking on the first of two separate seven-match losing streaks. Though he ended the season with a losing record, he had anything but a losing mentality.
“Even though the results weren’t so great, I made steady improvements,” Andrews says. “By the end, I had earned my spot and that work ethic has guided me for the last few years.”
Andrews’s efforts certainly paid off. After a dismal 9-16 freshman record, he produced a sophomore and junior campaign of 26-9 and 20-11, respectively. It also helped that he wasn’t being placed on the third court every match. Out of six possible courts in dual matches, a team’s best player should be on the first court, second-best on the second court and so on. At that point, Nick was definitely not the team’s third best player. During his sophomore and junior campaigns, however, he improved dramatically — and owned the third court.
That’s not to say Wright has any hesitation assigning him to tougher opponents now. After a long stint on the third court, Andrews took charge senior year and now has control of the top court. Though his record at 15-12 isn’t as impressive as previous seasons, he prefers the challenge.
“Being on the top court is a great opportunity to improve in every match,” he says. “I might not win every one, but I go out there and give it my all.”
That’s not to say he never wins the big matches. Just last year, in a difficult 4-1 loss to USC, Andrews scored the lone point by besting No. 24 Daniel Nguyen. Just this weekend, he impressively dominated No. 14 Kyle McMorrow of Washington in a 6-2, 6-2 decision.
Being down a few games doesn’t hurt his confidence, either. After his slow start against Cambier this past Saturday, he rallied back to crush him in a 6-3, 6-1 decision. That win capped an individual four-match win streak as he leads the 4-0 Bears in conference play.
Even in doubles play, Andrews proves to be a tireless worker. Over three years, he and doubles partner Chris Konigsfeldt have steadily improved to be the No. 3 group in the country. One of the reasons their fantastic success is considered so surprising is that neither of them have particularly strong serves. In doubles play, the team that serves is more likely to win a game, so the duo’s ability to break opponents’ serves is a significant disadvantage.
When they first began playing together, they developed a natural chemistry that brought the Northwest Regional title just a year later. They concluded that season with a wild run to the NCAA Doubles Championships finals. Beating the No. 1 duo in the country from Tennessee in the semifinals helped push Andrews and Konigsfeldt into the top five to open the 2011-12 season.
Perhaps most surprising about the duo is its success despite relatively low individual rankings. Nearly every other top-10 doubles group has at least one ranked member — yet neither Cal player is in the top 25. As far as Konigsfeldt is concerned, though, their success isn’t such a surprise; it’s a natural result of the time they put in on the court.
“We have good chemistry and understand each other pretty well after playing and practicing together for so long,” Konigsfeldt says.
As for the future, Andrews is surprisingly blunt about the his personal and team goals. Frankly, they’re one and the same: for his team to win it all. He’s aiming to go deeper into the postseason — maybe even vie for a shot at the national title.
“I’m looking to beat our previous result not just by one round, but maybe two. With the team we have, we have a good chance of going far this year.”
The path definitely won’t be easy. By the numbers, it’s unlikely to happen. No. 1 USC has had a tight grasp on the national championship for the last three years and there are even two other Pac-12 teams ranked higher than Cal.
Andrews knows that he and the Bears will be going into the NCAA tournament as massive underdogs. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.