After his historic junior season at Liberty, men's tennis player Sam Matheson is turning professional.
Following the most historic individual season in program history during the 2015-16 school year, Liberty's men's tennis player Sam Matheson is turning professional. Matheson, a native of Tauranga, New Zealand, will begin his professional career in Vietnam.
Matheson's junior season was one for the record books. He became the first player in program history to qualify for the NCAA Men's Tennis Championship and ninth Big South competitor all-time to receive a bid. He also finished the campaign ranked No. 99 in the final ITA National Rankings.
As a junior, Matheson finished the spring season with an 18-2 overall mark, pacing the Big South Conference. He was named the Big South Men's Tennis Player of the Year on April 13, becoming the first player in program history to achieve this honor.
He was also named to the All-Big South Singles first team and All-Big South Doubles first-team listings.
Matheson notched a program-best 28 singles victories between the fall and spring seasons as a junior. He posted the second-best, single-season winning percentage in program history at 82.4 percent (28-6 overall record). In just two years at Liberty, Matheson concludes his Flames career ranked eighth in program history with 50 career wins and second in career winning percentage (.714).
"I am so excited to see Sam chase his dream. I certainly would have love to see him here one more year, but I know he wants to start as soon as possible," said Liberty head coach Chris Johnson. "It was such a pleasure working with him. He came to the court every day ready to work hard. I'm sure he will be a great ambassador for Liberty Tennis for years to come!"
LibertyFlames.com had a chance to interview Matheson and asked him about his decision to turn pro, as well as what he gained by playing for the Liberty men's tennis program.
How did you come upon the decision to turn pro? Matheson: To become a professional tennis player has been my dream since I was eight years old. The training and development I received at Liberty University has helped my confidence grow. Coach Johnson and Coach Benson helped me to believe in myself, and I felt that now was the right time to do it even though that meant finishing my last year of school online.
Was it always a dream of yours to turn pro at some point? Matheson: I picked up a racket at eight years old, and from then on, it was what I always wanted to do. The moment I realized I wanted to play professional tennis as a career was when I was lucky enough to be picked as one of the Sovereign Superstars at 12 years old to play a mini tournament as a preview to the Heineken Open Men's Tennis which was televised. I met and talked to David Ferrer and he has been a role model to me ever since.
What is the most exciting part about this new opportunity? Matheson: My enthusiasm for tennis since I have been at Liberty University has grown even more. To now be able to travel the world and do something I love, I consider extremely exciting. The opportunity to play a lot of tournaments and to play a lot of different types of players in different environments will help me grow both on and off the court.
Where will you be playing to start and what does your upcoming schedule look like? Matheson: My schedule will be busy. I have decided to launch in Vietnam. I am going to play three Futures [events] in a row, and they are all at the same place. I will be travelling with another New Zealander for the initial tournaments. Then I will play some tournaments in New Zealand as a training block before heading to Thailand where again there are some Futures tournaments in a row. I am trying to see if I can get some sponsorship, and if so, I will also include Egypt into my schedule. In January, I will be back in New Zealand, where I hope to get into the Heineken Open qualifying. The beginning of 2017 will be a review and then to set in place the next three months of both futures and challengers tournaments.
How do you feel you grew as a player and as a person here at Liberty? Matheson: The Liberty environment was fantastic. I could not have asked for anything more. The training and development pathway was outstanding. I matured as both a player and a person. My team and coaches were always so supportive. Liberty made me feel inspired and that I could achieve my dream of becoming a professional player.
How do you feel the coaching staff and playing experience here at Liberty helped prepare you for the next level? Matheson: Coach Johnson and Coach Benson have been extremely supportive towards me. They helped me not only improve my game but helped me with the mental side of tennis and life on and off the court. It is because of them that my belief in myself is where it is today. At Liberty I learned to travel, be away from New Zealand, which is a small country, and I got the chance to play some really good tournaments.
What will you miss most about Liberty? Matheson: This was the hardest decision I have ever had to make leaving earlier that I originally intended. I just thought now was the time to do it. The decision was so hard, not turning pro, but leaving Liberty early as I knew I would it miss so much. I will miss my teammates and friends off the court, the comradeship of being part of a great team, the support of the coaches and being able to talk things through with them and just being part of Liberty University. I thank God for the opportunity he gave me, to be part of the Flames Tennis Team at Liberty University. It was the right place for me to learn and grow and become confident enough to set forth to achieve my dream of becoming a professional tennis player. I hope that I can take the knowledge I have gained and use it to help someone else at sometime to not be afraid to chase their dream.
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