Tennis star Bierich ready for last dual

BY AMIE KIEHN | APRIL 16, 2009 7:32 AM

He quit figure skating because it wasn’t his thing.

Left the table-tennis circuit in seventh grade after getting beat by a girl.

Enjoyed soccer but discovered he preferred a sport with a little more control.

Tennis was what remained for Iowa senior Christian Bierich, and his father was thrilled with his decision. All four siblings skated, including his sister, Cecilia, who became the 2004 gold medal winner at the Synchronized Skating World Championship.

“My dad was happy that he didn’t have to watch figure skating all day long,” Bierich said. “It was me and my dad doing the tennis thing, and my mom with all the figure skaters.”

Since Bierich first picked up the racquet at 6 years old, coaches around Landvetter, Sweden, recognized his exceptional power and presence on the tennis court. They told him college should be his next step. He didn’t know the journey would be so long, though.

“My coach was like, ‘If you get good, you can go to college and get part of education paid for,’ ” Bierich said. “That always has been in my mind the whole time when I was playing.”

After high school, Bierich decided to devote a year to training and beginning the load of paperwork in order to play aboard. The timeline was stringent. Bierich had exactly one recruitment year left to play at the Division-I level.

“I really needed to get over, because if you are older than 20 years old, you cannot go to Division-I school,” he said. “You have to go to D-2.”

The stress was immense on the 19 year old, who was looking for a school thousands of miles away.

Former tennis club member Jon Svensson, who played for Minnesota from 1997-2002, stepped in to mentor Bierich. Svensson equipped Bierich with an e-mail list of around 300 coaches and provided detailed descriptions of their programs.

“I especially looked for the Big Ten schools because [Svensson] went to Minnesota.” Bierich said. “I went to Minnesota first, but it didn’t work out, and so I looked at other schools, and he recommended Iowa. He felt it was a good choice for me.”

Svensson talked with Iowa head coach Steve Houghton about Bierich as his deadline grew near. Svensson vouched for Bierich, telling Houghton that Bierich had beaten him in a tournament in Sweden. Houghton did not let the opportunity pass away and signed Bierich in 2005.

“I signed a month-and-a-half before school started,” Bierich said, still astonished how it all worked out.

His first practice with the Hawkeyes was not as picturesque as Houghton had imagined.

“When he got here — he and I joke about it now — before practice even started, he played some guy pretty far down the line and didn’t do very well,” Houghton said. “I was thinking, ‘Geez, I may have made a big mistake on this,’ but turned out he has been a really good player for us for four years.”

After about two weeks into his freshman year, Bierich adjusted and won a few tournaments that helped him nab the No. 2 singles sport. He has been a significant asset for the Hawkeyes ever since.

In the fall of 2008, Bierich claimed the Big Ten singles championship and has continued winning this season at the No. 1 spot for Iowa.

Bierich will compete in his final home match April 19 against Purdue alongside his best friend, and fellow senior, Greg Holm.

“We’ve just kind of been through it all together,” Holm said. “He’s the short muscular guy and I am the tall skinny guy, but when it comes to everything else, we kind of feel the same way. So it works out, kind of funny how it works out.”

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