A NEW Zimbabwean tennis gem has been unearthed in the United States. The name Vusa Hove might not ring a bell to many tennis followers in Zimbabwe but the 22-year-old player is currently hogging the limelight at University at Buffalo in New York, United States, where he is ranked among their top players.
According to reports from New York, University at Buffalo men's tennis player Hove recently earned national and regional rankings as the Intercollegiate Tennis Association unveiled its first poll heading into the dual meet season.
Hove, a senior from Harare here in Zimbabwe, ranks 123rd in the national rankings and 14th among players in the USA's Northeast Region.
The Northeast Region includes all Division I programmes from New England, New York and New Jersey as well as many Pennsylvania schools and encompasses one of the toughest men's tennis leagues in the United States, the Ivy League.
Sixteen of the top 20 singles players in the Northeast Region play for Ivy League schools.
During the fall tournament season, Hove led the Bulls with an 8-3 singles record and was 4-3 in doubles play. He reached the semi-final round of Princeton Invitational, including a victory over Wake Forest's Danny Kreyman, now ranked 90th in the United States, before falling to Matija Pecotic of Princeton, the nation's number two player, in the semi-final.
Hove also won the Red Flight championship at Cornell Fall Invite as three of his four wins came in straight sets. Additionally, he earned a seeding and first-round bye at the ITA Regionals before being eliminated in the third round.
"Achieving a national ranking in singles is not an easy thing to do in our region. Vusa had a very good fall and being ranked is a great reward for his hard work," head coach Lee Nickell recently said from New York.
"Our goal is to keep Vusa's work ethic at a high level so he can maintain a ranking throughout the year and hopefully qualify for the NCAA tournament in May."
In his career with the Bulls, Hove has a 63-23 singles record. The 63 wins rank fourth on UB's all-time singles victory list while his .733 singles winning percentage tops that list. The Bulls open dual meet play during the weekend of January 25-26 with matches against Colgate and Bryant at Turning Stone Casino at Verona in New York.
And Hove is expected to play in these matches in which he will go in as the area's No.1-ranked male player for the second time in three years.
In fact, Hove was undefeated in winning three local tournaments last year -- the Muny Men's Singles Championships and two tournaments at Miller Tennis Centre. Matt Kane, former Niagara University star, played two superb matches against Hove. The first was in the semi-finals of the Muny Championships.
At 6-6 in the first set Hove found himself trailing, 1-4, in the tie-breaker (first to win 7 points).
"I knew how badly Matt wanted to defeat me and he was playing exceptionally well," Hove told reporters after that match.
"When you're the No. 1 seed there is a great amount of pressure on you. I tried to stay in the present and focus on playing without pressure."
Hove said he knew if he lost the next point he would be down by 1-5 and would be in severe trouble and was determined to play the rest of the set "as if my life depended on it."
From then on Hove played consistently on each point and waited for Kane to make mistakes. Before you knew it Hove was up, 5-4, and the pressure was now on Kane.
Kane kept playing aggressively, but to no avail. He lost the tie-breaker and then the second set to lose the match, 7-6, 6-1.
Once Kane lost the first set it was evident that he was getting tight and losing his confidence. Even though he lost the match he had played superbly in the first set. The problem is that if you give Hove an opening your chances are slim and none in winning the match.
In a tournament a week later Hove defeated Kane, 6-4, 6-4. Hove was extremely complimentary in his assessment of Kane's tennis game.
"Matt plays an all-out aggressive game. When he is playing well he is a very tough player to play against," he said.
Kane replied: "Vusa is so mentally and physically strong. He is like a human backboard and his ground-strokes are hit powerfully."
Hove's excellent game is complemented by his outstanding physical shape. He checks in at a solid 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds.
The extra weight allows him to hit the ball extremely hard at all times. His incredible foot speed is due to his workouts four days a week in which he does speed drills and weight training up to three hours a day.
He also plays hard singles 2Â½ hours a day six days a week.
To concentrate for entire matches as Hove does is mind-boggling.
Hove stresses that he listens to certain types of music before each match. He is also a firm believer in imagery.
"I picture myself as (former world heavyweight boxing champion) Mike Tyson in his prime," he said.
"I want to appear extremely confident at all times and put in my opponent's head that he will have to play his best tennis to defeat me."
However, don't think for a moment that Hove isn't magnanimous on the few occasions that he loses.
"Even though I do not like losing I am realistic that it is going to happen," he recently said from his base in Buffalo.
"Even (Roger) Federer and (Rafael) Nadal don't win every match that they play. If I lose I will congratulate my opponent and realise that I will have to work harder to defeat that player next time."
Hove gives much of the credit of his success to his coach Lee Nickell, the men's tennis coach at UB, and the opportunity to play in the highly competitive Mid-American Conference.
"I love playing on the UB team and the team aspect," Hove said.