During a 2004 interview for the University of Montana’s Kaimin, senior Grizzly tennis player Nick Tyree told the school newspaper that doubles was not his favorite game.
Well, actually he used a little stronger language than that in the “13 Questions” piece.
“I hate doubles,” Tyree, a Helena native, told the Kaimin. “I don’t like having someone else out there, it bothers me; I just don’t play my best.”
But what a difference eight years can make.
After college, Tyree — who also told the Kaimin he was a “pretty aggressive” competitor — switched to playing mixed doubles with his then-girlfriend Jonna Schwartz.
And this season, as a married couple, they finished the year as the top-ranked husband-wife tandem in the nation.
“I know, I used to hate it; I’ve come a long way since then,” Tyree laughed in a recent interview, when asked about his past aversion to doubles. “But I love it now, because I get to play with my best friend (wife Jonna) and have fun.
“It’s all I want to do now…it’s a lot more fun (than singles).”
According to the U.S. Tennis Association website, Tyree and Schwartz completed the 2012 season as the country’s top husband-wife doubles team, earning 1,270 points. There was a three-way for second place, 160 points back, at 1,010 points.
M.C. Beeby, longtime local tennis aficionado, believes Nick and Jonna are the first Montanans to be ranked first in the nation.
“The USTA offers four national open husband and wife tournaments a year, and we played in two of them,” explained Schwartz, who is a teacher at Helena High. “We took second at the national indoor tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, in June, and then we placed fourth at the national hard courts in Kansas City, Missouri, in July.”
Tyree, a cost analyst for American Chemet, related that they received a silver tennis ball on a link for their runner-up performance in Nashville.
He started playing tennis at the age of 5, and went on to become a No. 1 netter for the HHS Bengals all four years. At the state tournaments, as a junior with partner Nick Crowley, they placed runner-up in 1999, and the next season he finished third in the singles event.
Tyree won two Helena Open age-group (10-11) championships, was the Montana Open’s 14-year old singles titlist and captured the 2004 LCTA Open A singles crown.
With the Grizzlies, a career highlight occurred his junior year, when Tyree garnered the tiebreaking match to defeat Sacramento State, which was one of the top teams in the Big Sky.
Tyree’s other passion is working out. A dedicated weight lifter for over a decade, he trains daily, and at 5-foot-8 and 180-pounds has performed an eye-popping 425-pound bench press.
Schwartz hails from Aurora, Ill., (near Chicago), where she was a nationally ranked prep player. Her final two years of high school, she and her partner placed sixth and fifth at state in doubles.
Schwartz earned a scholarship to Montana, where she met Tyree.
Her senior year in 2006, she clinched the match for the Griz versus Montana State, which was also one of the conference’s top clubs.
“After college, Nick and I started playing doubles together socially, against Nick’s dad (Gary) and some of his friends, before we decided to compete,” Schwartz recounted. “So after we got married, we played in our first husband-wife tournament at the 2011 national hard courts, and took fifth.”
Tyree and Schwartz do not limit their tennis skills to just playing. They are instructors as well, having put on clinics all over the country. They have taught the sport in places like Schwartz’s home town of Aurora, in Naperville, Ill., and in New England.
In North Conway, N.H., Tyree worked a camp at the New England Tennis Holidays with legends Mats Wilander and Mikael Pernfors.
The couple plan on defending their No. 1 ranking this year, with intentions of participating in the indoor nationals in Nashville, and possibly the national clay courts in Florida.
So what does Jonna think about her husband’s transformation to liking doubles?
“Interestingly, Nick always loved the team aspect of college tennis,” Schwartz explained. “After spending your early years competing so heavily, it’s a complicated feeling to graduate college and leave your competitive days behind. It was difficult for both of us.
“The nice thing about husband and wife doubles is that we still get to play and be competitive, but we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously now. There’s less stress and anxiety involved when you play for yourself and your best buddy.”
Curt Synness: 594-2878 or firstname.lastname@example.org