Andrew Fenty is growing up

Tuesday, January 14, 2020 - 7:40pm

Sophomore Andrew Fenty was named the NCAA's Rookie of the Year in 2019 and has developed into a key player for the Wolverines this season.

Sophomore Andrew Fenty was named the NCAA's Rookie of the Year in 2019 and has developed into a key player for the Wolverines this season. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

At the end of Andrew Fenty’s freshman season, the accolades were coming in droves. 

Intercollegiate Tennis Association Freshman of the Year. Big Ten Freshman of the Year. First-Team All-Big Ten. 

So when Fenty was nominated for Male Freshman of the Year in the MGoBlue Awards, he thought things would go his way. 

“I had just gotten NCAA Rookie of the Year,” Fenty said, a grin beginning to envelope his boyish face. “So I was like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna get it for sure.’ ”

Nearly seven months after the awards, Fenty now grins because he didn’t win. The honor was instead bestowed on men’s basketball standout Ignas Brazdeikis. 

It proved to be a humbling moment of introspection and appreciation for Fenty. 

“Drew started to realize, ‘Hey, I’m surrounded by world-class athletes not only on my team, but on all teams here,’ ” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “He just started to take pride in that.”

“Michigan — playing for Michigan it’s honestly different,” Fenty said. “You only get it if you’re an athlete here. Being an athlete at Michigan is not a normal experience. Iggy, you know, he’s in the league now, which is crazy. There’s just world champions, NBA players. It’s normal here.”

Living up to such lofty standards, for some, can be burdensome. Many collegiate athletes struggle to cope with the pressure that comes with representing a school rich in athletic tradition. 

But not Fenty.

“I like it,” Fenty said. “I really like it. It motivates me a lot, makes me feel like I’ve got to work. Playing on those courts, seeing all the All-Americans and the banners on the walls, there’s just a lot to play for here.”

Fenty is no novice when it comes to being surrounded by gifted athletes, and has long-drawn motivation from a will to keep up with his peers. 

The athletic feats of his family members, in Fenty’s opinion, dwarf his own, which he places into his familys “lowest tier.” That’s because his grandfather, Phil, runs grueling 100-mile contests dubbed ultramarathons; his father, Adrian, competes in marathons and triathlons; and so on from aunt to uncle to mother to cousin. Seeing such achievements pushes Fenty to work harder on his own craft. 

And Fenty grew up surrounded by tennis greatness at the prized Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland. The JTCC, noted for talented alumni like Frances Tiafoe and Denis Kudla, enabled Fenty to see the potential fruits of his labor. 

“He’s seen the guys he grew up with have successful professional careers, and he wants that,” Steinberg said. “He wants people to know that, hey, Andrew Fenty is gonna be one of those guys. And so long as he stays humble and keeps maturing, he will make a name for himself in this game one day. He has the ability, that’s for sure.”

The talent has been evident since Fenty enrolled at Michigan as a highly-touted blue-chip recruit. Now a sophomore, with an impressive year of collegiate tennis under his belt, Fenty’s bar is raised. As the center of attention, he’ll have to deal with added popularity and expectations a stage that all budding athletes endure at one point in their careers. 

At the Ann Arbor Challenger last Tuesday, that much was apparent. 

A recipient of a Wild Card invitation into the main singles draw, Fenty bested teammate Ondrej Styler, 7-6, 7-6, and moved on to play eighth-seeded JC Aragone. 

The Challenger is an individual tournament, differentiating it from the team competitions that make up the bulk of Michigan’s schedule. After he eliminated Styler, Fenty was the lone Wolverine remaining in the event — all eyes were on him, quite literally. The seating overlooking the court of the Fenty-Aragone match was packed to the brim. 

Amongst the crowd, in addition to all of Fenty’s teammates and coaches, was Evan King, a three-time ITA All-American at Michigan, who was a Wolverine from 2010-2013. Not too long ago, King was showing Fenty around Ann Arbor as a volunteer assistant on Fenty’s recruiting visit. Now, King, who also participated in the Challenger, stands behind the seats, watching the program’s future play on the courts he once dominated. 

Fenty lost the match, 6-1, 6-4, a case of a younger player simply running into a more seasoned opponent. For Fenty, there were more important takeaways from the match than his play. After the match, he noted how hell have to adjust to and learn to ignore outside noise from big crowds and attention from successful alumni, like King. 

“Once he gets tennis specific in his mind, the rankings and expectations and this and that, that will go away,” Steinberg said. “It’s not easy to do when you’re young and you had the year he had last year.”

Thus far, Steinberg maintains that Fenty is dealing with the changes admirably. 

“I’ve been coaching for thirty years and to see the change in Drew from his first fall until now, it’s pretty remarkable,” Steinberg said. “He’s really grown a lot, improved in every area, not just on the court but everywhere — in the classroom, as a teammate, in understanding what our program is about. I use him as an example all the time.”

Inside the Varsity Tennis Center, a half hour removed from his Challenger loss and having just finished up routine post-match work on the stationary bike, Fenty leans his slender 6-foot-4 frame up against an off-white railing. The crowd that flooded his match is long gone, the building largely quiet except for the mellow sounds accompanying a few ongoing tennis rallies. His eyes gaze beyond the courts, settling on the walls draped by the banners and placards that memorialize Michigan tennis lore.  

“I’m just trying to make my own name,” Fenty said. “Trying to do something in tennis. That’s what I’m here for.”