By Evan Slavit
Since arriving at Union four years ago, Saul Kurtz ‘11 has been a constant fixture on Union’s tennis team’s starting lineup. His success on the court saw him land the second spot on the team, a big accomplishment for the senior. While Kurtz has excelled at tennis during his time at Union, he didn’t start playing competitively until his junior year of high school, electing to play baseball early on instead. As time passed, however, Kurtz decided to trade in his bat for a tennis racket.
“To be honest, I couldn’t really keep up with guys who were becoming bigger and stronger than me,” Kurtz says as he chuckles. “At the same time I had been taking weekly tennis lessons and I was confident I would be able to hold my own.”
After graduation, Kurtz came to Union and tried out for the tennis team. The rest is history.
In his sophomore year, Kurtz had quite a surprise when he was partnered up with a familiar name, Michael Kanner ‘11. Prior to enrolling at Union, the two seniors had quite a rivalry as the two attended competing high schools. They had met several times on the court, locking horns in heated battles. They were able to put that behind them though, and form the team’s best doubles pair.
“I remember the first time I played against him—the match got pretty heated,” said Kurtz. “Let’s just say some words were exchanged. After that I never thought I would ever be paired up with him, but the truth is he is definitely the best doubles partner I ever had. We just seem to work well together.”
This past season the team played Holy Cross, a Division I team. It was the first time Union has played a Division I team in over four years. While the team ultimately lost, Kurtz and Kanner won their match in an exhilarating affair.
To start, Kurtz and Kanner jumped to a 4-0 lead in the 8-game pro set. Perhaps a little content with their lead, they let their Holy Cross opponents back into the game dropping the next four to tie the game up 4-4. Refusing to let the match slip away, Kurtz and Kanner pulled out the next three wins to take the 7-4 advantage. The seesaw battle continued when Holy Cross took the next four to take an 8-7 lead, their first of the game. On the brink of losing, the duo pulled out a win to force a tiebreaker. With all the momentum on their side, the former adversaries took the tiebreaker 10-5.
That victory wasn’t the only exciting match Kurtz has been involved in while at Union. Earlier this year, the team went up against Le Moyne, a Division II school. Kurtz came into that match hurt and was worried he wouldn’t be competitive in his match. When he took the court, however, his team was down and it looked like it would be up to Kurtz to get the fifth victory to give his team the win. Hobbled, Kurtz battled all match to pull out the 6-4, 6-2 victory. Ecstatic with the win, Kurtz went to celebrate with his teammates, only to find out the team had done a little better than he thought, as they wound up winning 7-2. Still, that was one of Kurtz’s prouder moments, beating a tough opponent in such adverse conditions.
“It’s always frustrating trying to play when you are not fully healthy. Tennis is a sport where even a blister can stop you from playing. To be able to adjust to the conditions I was in was a cool moment. To know you can still find ways to be successful when you are not at your best is huge, and that doesn’t just apply to the tennis court,” said Kurtz.
What is probably the most impressive part of that story is the team mentality Kurtz had going into his match. Tennis is primarily an individual sport, yet Kurtz’s main concern was bringing back a W for his teammates. He will tell you himself: “When you look down the court and see the rest of the team is losing, you want to be the guy to pump them up. At the same time, when they are doing well, you don’t want to be the guy to let them down. It pumps you up in a way too.”
In the fall Kurtz got some international experience as well. During a term abroad in York, England, Kurtz tried out for the York St. John’s tennis team and landed the top spot on the team.
“Being in the number one position was kind of strange, as I would be leaving in ten weeks, but they were so welcoming it put my mind at ease,” said Kurtz. “It was a great way to meet people and be a part of something too. Some of my closest friends in England were guys on the team.”
This past weekend was the Liberty League Tournament and the team’s last match of the season. Due to poor weather conditions, the team was not able to play every match on their schedule, and ended up with a lower seeding than they had hoped for. They were given the fifth seed, which saw them match up with St. Lawrence in the first round, a team that had been in the NCAA tournament the year before. Realizing it was his last match, Kurtz became very nervous. He and partner Kanner had an uncharacteristically poor performance and wound up losing their doubles match 8-2.
Keeping that same team mentality, Kurtz refused to give up on his team. He and a few other teammates rallied around the guys still playing. They recognized the players who were struggling and cheered them on. They continued to do this for everyone playing. Miraculously, the Union squad rallied. The matches became closer and closer as each member of the team started to realize what was happening. What at first appeared to be a blowout, turned into one of the closest matches Kurtz has ever been a part of. While they did lose, they lost with a respectable 6-3 score, that could have easily gone the other way.
In their second match of the day, Union was matched up with rival RPI. This time they wouldn’t lose. Inspired by their performance in their last match, Kurtz and Kanner prevailed 8-3, contributing to Union’s 6-3 win. A fitting ending to a good season.
While Kurtz’s time at Union is nearly over, his tennis career is just beginning. In the past Kurtz has taught tennis during the summer and is looking to continue that past graduation. An aspiring musician, Kurtz believes teaching tennis is the best way to give him time to work on his music career while doing something he truly loves.
So, if you have any interest in learning tennis from a true pro, be sure to give him a call. Also, for anyone who has not heard his music be sure to check out his website http://saulkurtz.com/. His first album is available for a free download, and you can stream four songs from his new album, which is available for purchase on iTunes.