One member of UC San Diego calls junior teammate Max Jiganti’s style on the court “different.” His head coach, Timmer Willing, says he’s “unorthodox.” One thing everyone can agree on is that he’s successful. The Gig Harbor, WA native has racked up a 12-5 mark at No. 2 singles, the best among UCSD’s regular top six, and has won his last six in a row heading into Thursday’s final regular season match against Point Loma. Jiganti has also shined in doubles, pairing with sophomore Kona Luu to post a 12-5 record. His performances in both areas have been instrumental in lifting UCSD (11-9) to a No. 28 national ranking and the verge of the NCAA Division II Playoffs. “Max might be the MVP of the team,” says Willing. “He’s winning at a tough spot in the lineup and no matter who he plays, he’s been very difficult to beat. Even when he finds himself in trouble, he always seems to make an opponent come up with a great shot if he wants to win.” With the post-season looming, Jiganti took time to talk about what making the NCAA field means, the nuances of his own game and thoughts on his sport.
Q—Your team’s recent win over Grand Canyon virtually assured it of a spot in the upcoming NCAA Division II Championships. What kind of feeling did you have after that win?
JIGANTI—It was the best feeling of the season for sure. After all the hard work in practices and an intense fall schedule it felt like our team’s effort really paid off.
Q—Conversely, after reaching the NCAA Playoffs during your freshman year, what did it feel like to miss out on that opportunity as a sophomore?
JIGANTI—NCAA’s was probably the coolest trip I’ve been on and it was really frustrating missing out on it last year. It was something I looked forward to all season and I know it pushed us all to fight for the spot, but unfortunately we lost a close battle to Hawaii Pacific and missed the opportunity.
Q—What makes the NCAA’s special?
JIGANTI—The NCAA is where only the elite teams of Division II are invited to compete, and to be included in the top 16 has been my goal since the beginning of the season. You see some top players and playing an intense match against a top school is an awesome experience to be a part of.
Q—Has the performance of this year’s UCSD team surprised you at all? Why?
JIGANTI—Coming in I was confident because we had a lot of talented players who worked hard. Our lineup changed a lot from last year with seniors graduating and the players who came in without much dual match experience had a lot of success.
Q—You play No. 2 singles as well as No. 2 doubles with sophomore teammate Kona Luu. What makes you and Luu successful?
JIGANTI—Kona and I play doubles well because we understand each other’s games and know where to position ourselves. That’s probably the most important part of doubles and I think this year we really clicked; we didn’t rely on having to play great each match, but we knew if we were confident and aggressive we would get the wins we needed for the team.
Q—In singles, what’s the scouting report on Max Jiganti?
JIGANTI—I’ve thought about this question a lot and really haven’t reached a certain conclusion. All I can tell you for sure is that if you’re impatient you won’t have much fun playing me.
Q—Where do you think you’ve improved the most in your three years at UC San Diego?
JIGANTI—My strokes have gotten a little better over the three years here, but the biggest thing that’s affected my game is the mentality. Every point is an opportunity to win, and I’ve developed strategies and ways to exploit weaknesses that I’ve been trying to solidify ever since I became a Triton.
Q—The two head coaches you’ve played for as a Triton, Eric Steidlmayer and Timmer Willling—are both solid teachers. As you approach the end of Timmer’s first year at the helm, what you have found the differences to be in the two?
JIGANTI—Steidlmayer focused on more of the long-distance and mentally tough conditioning while Timmer looked more into the on-court agility training. Another difference is we are focusing a little more on doubles this year in our practices in terms of drills and situations, and I think it has gotten us off to a good start in lots of the close matches.
Q—We know both are very competitive. If they met tomorrow, best of three or best of five on UCSD’s North Courts, who would win?
JIGANTI—I’d have to go with Timmer. His slice would be just too low for Steidlmayer to reach for and would drive him crazy, although if Steidlmayer is making those first serve bombs I certainly like his chances.
Q—When you were learning the game what was the most beneficial drill you were exposed to?
JIGANTI—Figure-8’s were probably the best because they require a lot of footwork and wear you down pretty quickly. One player goes down the line while the other hits crosscourt, and the whole time they’re moving back and forth across the court. It’s great for conditioning and setting up to the ball.
Q—Among your teammates on the current Triton roster, who would give you the most trouble as a singles opponent?
JIGANTI—I think Camill (Salomon), our No. 1 singles player, is the toughest player to beat. He hits the ball like a professional. My only chance is to keep the ball low and force the 6’4” monster to bend his knees.
Q—You came to UCSD out of Gig Harbor in the state of Washington but were born in Australia. Tell us about your travels and how you got from Down Under to the Pacific Northwest and now San Diego.
JIGANTI—My dad is an orthopaedic surgeon and did a knee-fellowship in Sydney for a year and that’s where I was born. I don’t have many stories to tell because we came back to the states before I turned one. My dad works in the Gig Harbor/Tacoma WA area and I’ve been there basically my whole life and loved it. For college I wanted to live somewhere out of the Northwest and play tennis, and UCSD was a perfect fit for me.
Q—Professional tennis has evolved into a very international sport. Are you a follower of the pro game? If so, who are some of the players you’ve admired most?
JIGANTI—I watch most of the grand slams and supported Andy Roddick up until he retired. Also Todd Martin was one of my favorite players in the past.
Q—Which is your favorite of four Grand Slam events in tennis? Why?
JIGANTI—Wimbledon is my favorite because my family went to London a few years ago and the grass courts introduce a whole new dimension to the game. We watched the fourth set of the infamous Isner/Mahut singles match that took three days to complete and I look forward to going back in the future. Grand Slams are an incredible experience.
Q—You competed in golf and diving as well as tennis in high school. Golf and tennis are not all that atypical a pairing, but diving? How did that come about and what kind of skills did you have in the two sports?
JIGANTI—My dad was a gymnast and I grew up jumping off all sorts of bridges and flipping into the water so I wanted to give it a try. It’s a very difficult sport as I’ve never been an athlete to focus much on technique, but I’m glad I learned a few new flips and twists in the process.
Q—If you could be a star in any other sport besides tennis, what would you want it to be?
JIGANTI—I would prefer an extreme sport like skateboarding or snowboarding. To practice that every day would be a dream.
Q—Do you have any notions concerning a tennis career beyond college?
JIGANTI—Tennis has been an awesome addition to my life, but I don’t see myself with a career around it after I graduate.
Q—You have a day free of practice, competition and classes—what would you likely be doing?
JIGANTI—Most likely get down to the beach and surf with teammates Devon (Sousa) and Mark (Meyer). Afterwards hit the golf course with UCSD assistant coach and former player Jason (Wall), and finish the day off on a date with my wonderful girlfriend, Bronte.
Q—You’re a management science major. What made you go that direction, what’s been the most interesting class you’ve taken?
JIGANTI—I pursued business when I came into college, but as a sophomore decided to add pre-med classes and take the MCAT after college in order to become a doctor. Although I’m not pursuing business after graduating I’ve enjoyed my economics courses, and Maria Candido, my Econometrics Professor, has been excellent and is one of my favorites.
Q—Assuming the NCAA Tournament berth happens this spring, what is the potential of this year’s team and what is the key to success at that level?JIGANTI—We know we have a very high level after our match with Grand Canyon and as long as we come out to the matches like we did in that one I like our chances. After a few weeks of very specific training and working on our weaknesses, our team will be ready to compete with anybody in the NCAA tournament.
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