Nov. 19, 2013
By: Frank Kineavy
VILLANOVA, Pa. - As Men's Tennis Head Coach Brad Adams and the Wildcats look to build off of a promising 2013 campaign which saw the Wildcats win seven of eight down the stretch to qualify for the BIG EAST Championship, they will have a huge safety blanket to rely on in every match. Junior Kelly Donaldson and senior Thomas O'Brien are entering the third season of a partnership which has proven to be a force to be reckoned with in the Big East conference.
With a record of 40-26 over the past two seasons, Donaldson and O'Brien have gelled quickly. When you watch them play on the West Campus courts the contrasting styles of play are evident. This is what attracted Coach Adams when he decided that they would make great partners.
Donaldson is more of a power player. He relies on his huge serve to keep this pair on offense, while O'Brien is more of a classic finesse player who has a great touch around the net. O'Brien attributes much of the team's success to this contrasting style of play.
"Tom and Kelly really complement each other on the court," said Adams. "Both players have huge serves and Kelly returns well on the deuce side, where one of Tom's biggest strengths is his side backhand return."
"When I'm up at the net and Kelly is serving, it's a big advantage because it allows me to put away the weak returns that the opponents give us," says O'Brien.
These two players took very different paths to becoming teammates. Donaldson came to Villanova after a heralded high school career which saw him lift the Colorado state singles title, while O'Brien was ranked in the top 8 in New England in both the 16 year-old and 18 year-old divisions. However, due to a late start in the game, O'Brien's success did not come without growing pains along the way.
O'Brien, who took his lumps against more experienced players in the early part of his career, has used that as fuel to create a level of intensity during his three years at Villanova. This has propelled him to become Adam's top player in both singles and doubles.
O'Brien states: "The tough competition I faced was definitely a good mental preparation for college in regards to what I needed to improve and how to play to my strengths."
That intensity and O'Brien's meticulous training habits quickly rubbed off on Donaldson. The first lesson that Donaldson learned under the tutelage of O'Brien was the importance of honing your skills on the practice courts. "He has helped teach me that practice makes perfect and what happens in practice translates to the matches," says Donaldson.
From their hitting sessions to developing their repoire in live action, Kelly has cultivated the intensity that Tom brings to every match.
Donaldson states, "One of the most important parts of his game that compliments my game is definetely his intensity every single point. When we are on court, we never take a point off and always stay pumped."
Heading into this final season together, confidence is at an all time high. With both student-athletes completely healthy and plenty of match experience under their belts, Donaldson and O'Brien are primed for a strong finish.
"Kelly and I had a great fall season and I don't think we were expecting to do as well as we did," said O'Brien. "I think we can really build on where we finished this fall so I think that we can do very well. I don't think there is an opponent on our schedule that is impossible to beat by any means."
Donaldson and O'Brien will start the 2014 season on January 14th, 2014, in a double header where they open against Dartmouth at 4 p.m. and face Bryant at 8 p.m.