Double the Payoff: Christoffer Konigsfeldt’s team-first mentality

10.08.feature.LEE
Matthew Lee/Staff

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Christoffer Konigsfeldt could almost taste his first doubles championship crown.

During the fall of his sophomore year, he and partner Nick Andrews were one point away from winning the ITA Northwest Regional Championships.

After an intense back-and-forth affair of grabbing serve points, the score was 7-6 to Cal, with Washington serving the ball. Once the ball sailed across the net, all was up in the air.

Konigsfeldt and Andrews sent back Washington’s serves swiftly and effortlessly, and they broke down the Huskies in seconds. The Bears prevailed with an 8-6 victory, claiming the doubles championship title.

It was the only doubles trophy that Konigsfeldt has won in his three years at Cal.

However, Konigsfeldt still loves playing doubles, even more so than singles. He likes to focus on the intricacies of the game, and having a partner gives him more freedom to do so.

When he is playing a doubles match with one of his teammates by his side, he is at ease.

“When you play matches together, you have an extremely different mindset,” says Konigsfeldt. “You really work for each other and push each other, and get better together.”

Four years ago, Konigsfeldt jumped at the chance to add a team mentality to such an individualized sport.

Tennis is in Konigsfeldt’s blood. His parents met at the local tennis club in a small suburb just outside of Copenhagen, Denmark. His two older brothers and his younger sister played, and he remembers competing against them when he was just a kid.

“I think it was meant to be,” Konigsfeldt says. “I’m pretty sure I played tennis even before I could walk — it’s just always been a part of my life.”

However, for Konigsfeldt, the sport lacked a crucial facet that he craved: a team-centered philosophy. When he played tennis in high school, Konigsfeldt went to tournaments not with teammates but rather by himself.

“In Denmark, there’s an emphasis on the individual mentality of the sport,” he says. “I never really liked the idea of playing just for myself.”

The competitive pool in Denmark was too small for Konigsfeldt. He likens the number of tennis players in the whole country is comparable to that of Northern California.

Especially in his small hometown of Rungsted Kyst, there was never a group of people he could rally with on a free day besides his father or brothers.

Although he enjoyed practicing doubles with his family, his games never amounted to anything more than friendly competition. He never took practicing with his family seriously.

Konigsfeldt maintained a small tennis circle in Denmark, and one of the trainers in that circle was Morten Christensen. A former Cal assistant coach, Christensen introduced Konigsfeldt to Cal; after talking with head coach Peter Wright, Konigsfeldt was offered a position on the Cal team.

After visiting the campus, seeing the athletic facilities and meeting the team, Konigsfeldt was ready to seek out opportunities he never would have had in Denmark.

The fact that he would be able to continue his education — as well as pursue college tennis with a team of other high-level players — pushed him in California’s direction.

“In Denmark, after high school you pretty much have to choose between playing tennis at a high level, or going to school,” Konigsfeldt says. “But here at Cal you can do both at the same time, which is just so great.”

Getting used to the foreign college environment took some time. Aside from the standard transitions any college student had to make, Konigsfeldt also had to learn to speak fluently in English and balance classes with team practices and weekend tournaments.

But it helped that his freshman roommate was Riki McLachlan, who is now Konigsfeldt’s co-captain. When Konigsfeldt came to Cal, he clicked immediately with his roommate and later all the other members of his new team.

He came to Cal based on the team chemistry; soon enough, that chemistry translated to friendship off the court.

“When you train together, you know you’re not just playing for yourself,” Konigsfeldt says. “You’re playing with each other, and for each other, and it makes winning that much more rewarding.”

Having the opportunity to play with his Cal teammates has shaped how Konigsfeldt plays the sport, especially when he competes in doubles matches.

Last year alongside Nick Andrews, Konigsfeldt earned a No. 5 national ranking in doubles. He has the skill set and work ethic to keep him primed and ready to fight back, even if he is down one set.

In 2011, the doubles tandem of Konigsfeldt and Andrews suffered a disappointing loss to an unranked team in the first round of the ITA All-American Championships.

However, the duo entered the doubles consolation pool to make a comeback. And after conquering all three of their opponents, Konigsfeldt and Andrews managed to clinch the doubles consolation title.

“When it comes to bigger and better matches, Chris is so engaged and focused,” Wright says. “He has the tennis IQ and the physicality, which makes him such a fierce competitor.”

Even when under pressure, Konigsfeldt is able to control the pace and the momentum of the game. During his freshman year, Konigsfeldt took on the deciding match in a dual tilt with Stanford.

Despite losing the first set in a tiebreaker, Konigsfeldt ultimately took control of the court, capitalizing on some of his opponent’s weak shots in the second set. At match point, Konigsfeldt returned on his opponent’s serve, after which the Cardinal hit the ball into the alley, giving Konigsfeldt a come-from-behind victory for the Bears.

“You can never count him out of the match,” fellow senior captain Riki McLachlan says. “He’s a really smart guy who finds ways to figure it out.”

Konigsfeldt still attributes many of his skills and mainly his mindset to playing with his Cal team.

“We make each other better all the time and we motivate each other when someone’s having a bad day — that means a lot to me,” Konigsfeldt says.

Even as a senior, Konigsfeldt is never thinking about individual goals but rather team goals. By the end of the season, he hopes for Cal to make it past the sweet 16 round and into the NCAA quarterfinals.

But ultimately, if he is to impart anything on his freshly-minted Cal teammates, it is that they are not only trying to improve themselves, but also the person they’re with whom they’re hitting.

In the Cal men’s tennis office, Konigsfeldt sits and waits as his other teammates bustle in for another Friday afternoon practice.

He and McLachlan are in the office early, joking around with each other as the rest of the team makes their way into the room. As he surrounds himself with his teammates and his friends, who are all chattering away in a relaxed and carefree environment, he looks around the office, and smiles.

He doesn’t miss home very much. In fact, the Dane feels at ease in Berkeley, especially around his team. These are the people who he hopes to shape throughout the year by acting as a role model and as a senior captain.

They’re also the ones who have been shaping him for the past four years as his teammates, his friends and his family.

Janice Chua covers men’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected]