Backstrom Leads By Example At ITA Kickoff

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The Ole Miss men's tennis team, ranked No. 10 in the nation, lost a pair of hard-fought matches in the ITA-Kick-Off Weekend, first to No. 26 Michigan (4-3) on Saturday and then to No. 25 Clemson (4-2) on Sunday.

"The first thing that I saw was Nik Scholtz played really well, and he's really proving himself to be one of the best players in the country. The other person if I single out what I really liked is Johan Backstrom who played great," head coach Billy Chadwick said of the weekend. He played absolutely great."

Scholtz, ranked No. 15 in the nation, won both of his singles matches at No. 1 singles in straight sets. It was vintage Scholtz, a two-time All-American, who battled elbow injuries late last season.

The story of the weekend, however, was the stellar play of Johan Backstrom, the team's lone senior. He won both of his singles matches, including a dominant 6-0, 6-4 win over Clemson's Austin Ansari on Sunday. 

Backstrom entered the weekend with a 32-27 career record in dual singles matches, having played mostly No. 5 and No. 6 singles in his first three seasons for the Rebels.

And after being limited to just two matches, both in doubles, during the fall season, the Uppsala, Sweden native is playing perhaps the best tennis of his career.

"I played very well in both matches this weekend, especially today in my first set," Backstrom said. "It was really good. I was doing what we have been working on in practice with the coaches, so that's a great feeling to be able to show that improvement in a match. It was good for me."

Ole Miss has a relatively young team, especially at the bottom of the lineup in singles and doubles, including redshirt freshman Vinod Gowda at No. 5 singles and Zach Wilder at No. 6 singles, as well as sophomore Joe Rogers who teamed with Wilder at No. 3 doubles. 

This weekend marked the first career dual matches for both Gowda and Rogers, while it was the third and fourth career dual singles matches for Wilder.

"They're fighting very hard," Backstrom said. "It's tough to come in there. Vinod had a great effort today coming back. Yesterday, it was first dual match. He showed today that he learned from that and he was able to come back today. Zach just has to keep on working, and I'm 100 percent sure he will play better and better through the season and bring us some wins in the future."

Backstrom has embraced his role as one of the older, more experienced players, as he looks to continue his steady play and help the underclassmen on the team.

"You have to act more like a leader and lead by example in everything you do, on and off the court," he said. "You help the younger guys to play at their potential. It's a different feeling when you're out there, but I like it."

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