Strode Recovers From Early Struggles

FAYETTEVILLE -- Less than a month ago, Blake Strode was down. He was struggling along with the rest of the Arkansas men's tennis team, and he wasn't really sure why things kept going wrong.

Then Strode just let it go. He stopped worrying about his collective performance thus far, forgot about his 1-4 start to the Southeastern Conference season and decided from that point on, he was just going to do his thing and not let the past affect him. Pretty good move. Strode has not only gotten out of his slump, he's turned into one of the hottest players in the country, reeling off six consecutive victories, including five over ranked opponents. He's 7-4 in conference play, 26-10 overall and is jumped 34 spots in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings to No. 43. He leads the Razorbacks into today's Southeastern Conference Tournament in Baton Rouge, La. Arkansas will open up tournament play against No. 5 seed Tennessee at 5 p.m. "It was the toughest part of my two years here," Strode said of his early struggles. "I started to get down on myself. But it took pressure off of me, and now I'm much more relaxed and having fun playing. I'm playing much better tennis than I was at the beginning of the season." Strode, a sophomore, has proven to be the bright spot in what has otherwise been a very difficult season for the Razorbacks. They're just 7-21 overall and haven't notched a single conference victory. But having success like Strode's has shown Arkansas coach Robert Cox that there's plenty to look forward to and there's still something to be excited about. Strode is well en route to a chance to compete in the NCAA Championships as an individual. "It's been a year that I don't know how to handle," Cox said. "It would have been very easy to pack it in. But he's a shining star -- it's not so dark. He's having some success and keeping Arkansas' name up where it traditionally has been." At A Glance SEC TOURNAMENT WHAT: No. 12 Arkansas vs. No. 5 Tennessee WHEN: 5 p.m. today WHERE: Baton Rouge, La. LAST MEETING: Tennessee won 7-0 BIO BOX Blake Strode CLASS: Sophomore HEIGHT: 6-foot-2 HOMETOWN: St. Louis RECORD: 26-10, 7-4 SEC RANK: No. 43 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association NOTABLE: Strode began SEC play 1-4 before reeling off six consecutive victories to close out the regular season 7-4.

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