It was difficult for Ryan Lipman to watch his teammates.
As a junior in 2012, the ace of Vanderbilt’s tennis team played just one set at the SEC Indoors before he felt something pull in his hip. What followed was about six months of rehabilitation that wiped out his entire outdoor season, which fueled a determination to get back on the courts.
“I had to retire from the match, I couldn’t continue, it was too painful,” he said. “It was really hard, sitting on the sidelines, watching our matches and wishing I could be out there helping them.”
A little more than a year later Lipman is ranked No. 13 in the country as he and his teammates gear up for the school’s first NCAA regional at home since 2003. The No. 16 Commodores (16-10) play East Tennessee State in their opening match, 2 p.m. Friday. The event begins with an 11 a.m. match between Illinois and Georgia State.
Friday’s winners meet at 2 p.m. Saturday at for a chance to advance to the round of 16.
“I spent a lot of time in the rehab room, working out six days a week, lifting weights with the strength coach, doing everything I needed to do to get back [from the hip injury],” Lipman, who has played No. 1 singles for the Commodores since his freshman year, said. “What was really hard was when I met with Coach [Ian Duvenhage] in March of that year and we decided the best plan was to redshirt. I hated missing that year, especially playing with a lot of the guys in my class and wanting to continue together.”
Said Duvenhage: “I was with Ryan a lot in the weight room, and I know first-hand how much he worked to get himself all the way back. Ryan is one of the most outstanding men I have ever had to privilege to work with. He has such a positive outlook, is a great team leader and sets a great example by how hard he works.”
Lipman returned with a bang, compiling an 18-6 spring record (8-4 in the SEC) and storming to No. 10 Intercollegiate Tennis Association rank, a career-best.
That ranking qualifies him for a No. 9-12 seeded position when the individuals start at Urbana, Ill., May 23, following the team competition. He and teammate Gonzales Austin both made the singles field.
“In June, I played in the Washington, D.C., U.S. Open, and I won a couple of matches, then I had a bad loss,” Lipman said. “Some doubts started creeping in, and I had to work through that. It wasn’t until some late October matches I played in last year, that I felt 100 percent.”
Now he and his teammates can extend their season as long as they keep winning.
“It’s a new season,” Duvenhage said. “One of the main goals the guys set for themselves was to host a region, something we were shooting for. It’s exciting to see our guys work so hard to attain that goal. Hopefully, we will have a very vociferous crowd.
“I don’t want anyone think we’re overlooking ETSU, they have a very good team. As a coach, sometimes you tend to sugarcoat things, but that’s not the case here. We are going to have to play an excellent match in order to beat them. As a No. 16 seed, we were the last team selected to host a region — but it doesn’t matter as long as you get to host one.”
It helps to have your best player.
“It is awesome to host,” Lipman said. “It was one of our pre-season goals, and I’m very excited about getting to play before our home fans.”
• The Vanderbilt women (15-11), making their 19th straight trip to the NCAA tournament, open in the Clemson, S.C. region 9 p.m. Friday against Indiana. Host Clemson will meet Eastern Kentucky in the second match at noon.
The winners meet Saturday for a chance to go to the round of 16, May 17-21 in Urbana, Ill.
Vanderbilt met Indiana in the NCAA tourney once, winning 4-0 in 2010.
NCAA Tennis Regional
When: Friday, Saturday
Where: Vanderbilt courts
Match times: Friday — Illinois vs. Georgia State, 11 a.m.; Vanderbilt vs. ETSU, 2 p.m. Saturday — Finals, 2 p.m.
Admission: $5 general admission; $3 students.
Parking: Friday — Fans may use Medical Center Lots No. 74 and 75, next to Natchez Trace. Saturday — Fans may use 25th Ave., garage, across street from courts. Locations free both days.