6 min read
At the end of 2021, Universal Tennis launched the Universal Tennis Collegiate Ambassador program. Initially inspired by the changes in the NCAA Name, Image, and Likeness, the program signed four collegiate athletes as the first-ever ambassadors.
Now, Universal Tennis is expanding the program to graduating seniors, coaches, and pros, adding six-time UTR Pro Tennis Tour champion Li Tu (UTR Rating 14.14), coach Jonathan Stokke, and four college players: Carson Branstine (11.00), Alex Kotzen (13.40), Blake Kasday (11.90), and Solymar Colling (10.72).
The ambassadors will promote various Universal Tennis initiatives such as the UTR Pro Tennis Tour, College Camps, Flex Leagues, and Paid Hits. Their efforts will align directly with Universal Tennis’ mission to grow the sport by connecting players globally through level-based play, innovative events, and a digital marketplace.
Meet Li Tu
Tu is one of the most decorated UTR Pro Tennis Tour players in history. In total, he has played 72 PTT matches, winning 67 of them and capturing six titles. The 25-year-old Australian discovered the PTT at a pivotal time in his career, using the experience to rekindle his dream of pursuing pro tennis. His career took off, with wild cards into the 2021 and 2022 Australian Opens and six ITF titles captured since August 2021. All of his success has propelled his ATP ranking to a career-high of No. 395.
“Universal Tennis not only helps me as a player but also as a coach,” Tu said. “I remember talking about UTR Rating years ago and how college coaches were using it. It's also been pretty cool that while I was not playing, I ran a Universal Tennis tournament as well, and so I've got insight from both perspectives.”
Meet the New College Players
Carson Branstine is ranked No. 8 in the ITA Rankings after going 16-6 playing at the No. 1 position for Texas A&M. The Aggies are 32-1 and ranked No. 7 going into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Championships and will host Vanderbilt on Saturday for a spot in the NCAA Elite Eight (hosted by the University of Illinois). Branstine helped Texas A&M win the SEC Championships and was named to the All-SEC First Team.
The 21-year-old redshirted her first two years of college tennis due to injuries and transferred to Texas A&M from the University of Virginia. Though born in California, she has represented Canada professionally and had huge success as a junior, teaming up with Bianca Andreescu to win the 2017 junior Australian Open and Roland Garros doubles titles, and reaching No. 4 in the ITF Junior rankings.
Solymar Colling is a redshirt junior at the University of San Diego, with plans to pursue a pro career before returning to campus to complete her final season of eligibility in 2023.
"I'm looking forward to being an ambassador because I believe that Universal Tennis is trying to help grow the game and make it more universal with their rating system," Colling said. "They are really trying to put the athletes first as we have seen with the UTR pro-Tennis Tour that really gives players the opportunity to get great match play and still make money."
Colling led the Toreros at the No. 1 position, and they ended the 2022 season with a 16-7 record and ranked No. 38. The 22-year-old went 19-13 in dual-match season action and earned First Team All-West Coast Conference honors (San Diego finished runner-up to Pepperdine in the conference championship final).
Alex Kotzen is a New York native and a sophomore at the University of Columbia where he plays at the No. 1 position. The 21-year-old has dabbled in pro tennis already, playing ITF events in Tunisia, India, and Europe in 2021, reaching a career-high ranking of No. 848 on the ATP Tour. He appeared in the final of a UTR Pro Tennis Tour $25K to start his 2022 season. It marked his third PTT event after reaching the semifinals of the New York $25K in December and Naples $25K in November.
He compiled a 14-3 dual-match record for the Lions this spring and will compete in the individual NCAA championships in Champaign, Illinois starting on May 23. Currently ranked No. 22 in the ITA rankings, Kotzen has been as high as No. 7.
"I'm really excited for the opportunity to represent the Columbia University men's tennis program and showcase how well we're playing as a team," Kotzen said. "I would not be playing at the level I am now without the incredible people supporting our team at Columbia from coaches to trainers to alumni. I love what Universal Tennis is doing with the UTR Pro Tennis Tour. It provides players with a lot of high-quality matches and substantial prize money in a way that has never been seen in our sport's history."
Blake Kasday is a sophomore at the University of San Diego with the long-term goal of becoming a college coach after graduation. The 20-year-old began his college career last year playing both singles and doubles. He brings valuable doubles experience to the No. 17-ranked Torerors as a former No. 1 nationally ranked doubles champion.
"I'm excited to be an ambassador for Universal Tennis because I love being a representative of the game," the last Vegas native said. "What I like most about what Universal Tennis is doing is connecting people of all genders and ages to play with one another."
Meet Our First Coach Ambassador
Jonathan Stokke was an All-American at Duke University before pursuing a coaching career, first as an assistant coach at Wake Forest before coaching the men's team at Duke for ten years until 2020. He has since established a coaching home base in Charleston, South Carolina. Along with private coaching, the 38-year-old runs an Instagram account dedicated to data-driven instruction and hosts a podcast called "Baseline Intelligence with Jonathan Stokke".
The newly restructured Universal Tennis Ambassador program offers a mutually beneficial opportunity for Universal Tennis and the players as they compete at the collegiate level and pursue post-college careers as professional players and/or coaches. Each of these ambassadors was chosen for their tennis success, their passion for the sport, and their desire to grow the game globally alongside Universal Tennis.