With the Georgia men’s tennis team hosting first and second NCAA tournament rounds this weekend, Blake Croyder needs one win to enter UGA’s top 20 for most singles wins. From Marietta, Georgia, Croyder is pursuing his master’s degree in financial planning. He plays No. 4 singles and No. 3 doubles with redshirt senior Britton Johnston, helping Georgia win its first SEC regular-season championship since 2017.
Here, he talks about some of this season’s big moments and his postseason ‘stache.
(This interview has been edited for clarity.)
Q: In your match against Florida (on April 9), what do you remember after winning that third set against Lukas Greif to clinch a part of the SEC championship?
A: We came in, I think it was 8-0 (in conference play), and I know we wanted to win both of these and we wanted to go undefeated in the regular season. Lukas was a friend of mine so I kind of just tried to keep that aside. Throughout the entire third-set breaker eventually (I) just clinched it and won that match point. So, it definitely was just a huge relief.
Q: A couple of days later, you’re playing Mississippi State. You had the opportunity to win your 100th (college) singles match, which you did. What was going through your head before the match? Was it kind of on your mind that you could potentially win your 100th singles match?
A: Yeah, it definitely was. I remember going in January to our first tournament in Miami and I thought, “I have to win 15 more matches,” because Phil (Henning) and I did the calculations from all of our old stuff to see how many wins we needed. I think he was at 87 or something. I was at 85 and we both went off to horrible starts in the beginning of the season, 0-3 in Miami in singles. But, eventually reaching that 99 mark, and just realizing that I needed one more. I think I just tried to stay in the moment and win the match for the team because we lost that doubles point against Mississippi State. We all went out with a little bit of anger after that, and I played one of the best matches I played all year. It just so happened to be number 100. It was great.
Q: Is there any one moment or experience that you will remember for decades, that you’ve experienced here as a player at UGA?
A: One moment I remember was sophomore year when we played Ohio State. They were ranked three I think. In my freshman year, we went there to Ohio State and Columbus and we got (beaten) 4-0 so badly. When they came to Athens, we 4-0 them. It was just an incredible experience. My friend Phil just clinched it for us with a 4-0 win and we all just stormed the court. It was just a great day for victory. Also, just the clinch against Florida to secure our SEC championship, which we hadn’t gotten in in my time here as well. Those two moments I think are the best.
Q: Do you remember what the recruiting process was like and the conversations you had with Manny Diaz?
A: I actually committed before I even came on my visit. I don’t think there was any other place that really stood out to me as much as UGA did. I came here to watch the NCAA (tournament) in 2017 and just fell in love with the atmosphere and the fans. So I just committed beforehand knowing Manny’s legacy and Jamie (Hunt) coming in as a coach as well. I knew that they could provide so much for me, and they have done just exactly that.
Q: When you first got to UGA, you were a completely different player than you are now. In your eyes, what’s one aspect of your game or something about you that’s changed over the past five years?
A: Definitely just getting tougher. In these grueling matches, like losing first sets, I feel like a lot of the time in the beginning parts of my career here, I just felt like I wasn’t as tough. I wasn’t making it as difficult as I could on my opponent. I feel like that’s something that I’ve changed and now I’ve gotten a lot more mentally tough, making it as hard as I can for the opponent. Just never stopped fighting essentially. I feel like before I just lacked a little bit of that, but this program and UGA mentality have definitely changed that.
Q: So after your UGA career, how do you plan on keeping up with tennis? Do you want to continue your playing career, do you want to get into coaching, or head off into the real world?
A: So this summer, I’ll be teaching in East Hampton, New York with Thomas Paulsell, another teammate of mine. After that, I’m thinking about maybe trying the pro tour for a little bit. I’m not 100% set on that, but then also there are some coaching possibilities up in New York as well that I’m thinking about doing. Not really sure exactly what I’m going to do, but I think definitely staying in tennis right after school is the plan.
Q: I see the mustache is coming in nice. I saw the other day on the UGA tennis Instagram story, where Filipe (Costa) kind of showed everyone’s mustaches, how’s that competition coming along with all of you guys right now?
A: Everyone bailed out. I’m the only one left repping it. I guess it was kind of just a postseason sort of thing. I think once we had that loss against Kentucky (on April 23 in the SEC tournament final), everyone shaved. We had a banquet called the Dawgs Choice Awards, and I think everyone just wanted to clean up and look really nice.
Q: What led up to you guys deciding to rock the mustache?
A: It was me. I decided. I think I told everyone. I remember it started off with the mullet. Filipe got a mullet in the beginning of the fall, and then I followed him through with the mullet as well. They wanted me to bring it back, but I just don’t think I was ready to rock the mullet again. So I just sent out the ‘stache for the postseason, and I’m going to stick to it.
Ayaan Bakaly is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.