(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA – During the Australian Open earlier this month, Montana senior Alex Canellopoulos watched intently as fellow Grecian Stefanos Tsitsipas became a global sensation, upsetting Roger Federer en-route to the semifinal and becoming the youngest player ever in world’s top 20.
After all, it’s not every day a guy you grew up with takes down one of the greatest players in the world to make his mark on tennis history.
“I shared courts with him, played with him, we practiced together, played matches against each other, we basically grew up together,” said Canellopoulos. “To see him playing against all those big players and beating some of them was really cool.”
As Montana’s lone senior, Canellopoulos is looking to make a little history of his own in 2019 as he sets off to lead UM to its 29th-straight, and 50th all-time Big Sky championship tournament.
He and the Grizzlies will take their first steps back to the tourney this weekend as Montana plays host to Whitman, the No. 13 D-III team in the nation and a nonconference tussle with Montana State in a home-opening weekend slate.
The Griz start the homestand at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 2, against the Blues, and finish the weekend at noon on Sunday, Feb. 3, against the Bobcats.
Both matches will be played indoors at the PEAK Racquet Club south of Missoula and admission is free. Links to live stats are available at GoGriz.com, and a video feed of the action on court one can be found on the team’s Facebook page.
Canellopoulos has grown accustomed to playing in the Big Sky tournament, with the Griz advancing to the title match in two of his three seasons at UM. A fourth-straight trip won’t be so easy in his final year, however. With a nine-man squad built of six true freshmen, the Griz are wet behind the ears.
Second-year head coach Jason Brown believes Canellopoulos can be the next in a long line of excellent Grizzly seniors who have helped give the Griz an opportunity to return to the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2014.
“I’ve been really impressed with Alex’s leadership. He’s been tearing it up in practice and getting after everyone, said Brown. “I’m thrilled he’s taken the mentality that he wants to go out and see what he can do and make the most out of his last season.”
While the realization this is his final hurrah as a Grizzly hasn’t fully sunk in yet for the double major in finance and international business, Canellopoulos says he’s looking forward to applying what he’s learned from the great Grizzly senior leaders of the past to help bring along the young squad.
“Leading by example, keeping your head up, and showing the younger guys what’s expected on the team and in school,” said Canellopoulos. “They have to know that’s what’s expected, and I feel like can lead them like the way the older guys showed me. I’m really appreciative for having that experience.”
Despite the challenges ahead, the big-hitting senior who has already made UM history as one-half of the first nationally ranked doubles pair in team history is looking forward to being a team leader in his final season.
“I’m excited, but I wish there were more seasons to come. It’s a new role for me, so I’ll challenge myself to make others better,” Canellopoulos added. “I’m excited for the team, excited for the young guys to get into college tennis.”
The young Grizzlies will have a difficult task at hand this weekend if they are to defend their home courts until they return on March 9, hosing a ranked Whitman team and an improved Bobcat squad, a team Canellopoulos has never lost to.
The Griz shook the winter break rust off last week when they traveled to Gonzaga, and fell to an experienced Zag side 2-5. For Canellopoulos, it was the perfect way to show the young guys just what lies ahead this season. The team found some success too, with freshman Ed Pudney and junior Max Korkh picking up wins.
“It was a good experience, especially for the younger guys to see how competitive college tennis is and how important every match is, and how fine the line between winning and losing,” he said.
Now Canellopoulos says this week’s matches are all about building on the GU match and putting the pieces together before the team opens conference play.
“I feel like we have to go out, compete, support each other, motivate each other and just get some wins. Get some good results and good performances, and I believe we’ll do that. I believe we have a good team. Everybody is very competitive, strong physically and mentally, and I think we’ll do fine,” said Canellopoulos.
And in the meantime, the senior from Greece, who came to the U.S. with rudimentary English and proceeded to earn three Academic All-Big Sky Selections, is just trying to enjoy his final months is maroon and silver.
“I get sad when I think about finishing school. So many great memories and so many things this town and University has done for me to help me grow as a person. I can’t describe it. I just fully appreciate everyone in this town. It’s a great place, and I’ll miss it when it’s over,” said Canellopoulos.
GRIZ QUICK HITS: Montana picked up two singles wins in their season opener at Gonzaga on Jan. 19. Freshman Ed Pudney picked up his first college dual victory with a 6-4, 5-7, 1-0 (10-4) win on court four, while junior Max Korkh<https://gogriz.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=4799> got his first singles win of the year on court three, 1-6, 7-6, 1-0 (10-5).
Brothers Ludvig Hallgren and Pontus Hallgren played their first doubles match together in a college dual at Gonzaga, and were leading the match for most of the way before it was called at 5-5 when the Zags clinched the point.
The two are no strangers to success in Spokane. In the Fall, the Hallgren brothers won the Red doubles title at Gonzaga’s Bulldog Invitational.
Whitman’s match at Montana will serve as the season opener for the Blues, who will also play the Bobcats while in Missoula.
Montana State comes to town at 0-3 on the year, coming off 7-0 losses to Utah and Boise State (both future UM opponents) and a 2-5 loss to Gonzaga in Boise, the same score of UM’s loss to the Zags.
LOOKING AHEAD: Montana will open conference play at Northern Colorado on Feb. 8 in Greeley. The Bears, who were picked to finish last in the Big Sky preseason coaches poll, are coming off a weekend of big wins.
UNC went down to Dallas where they picked up victories over Southern Methodist and Nebraska as well, completing the banner trip.
From Greeley, the Griz travel south on I-25 to Colorado Springs where they will take on Abilene Christian and the Air Force Academy on Feb. 9 and 10.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS: Montana returns home on March 9, and 10 for a pair of key Big Sky matches against Northern Arizona, the team picked to finish first in the league’s preseason poll, and the always challenging Weber State Wildcats.