Men’s tennis is gearing up for another season, and the Mustangs can expect to have arguably its best player on the court this year.

Andre Dome is expected to return to the court after a series of injuries and a major hip surgery that took him out of the game last year.

Cal Poly men's tennis player Andre Dome was an All-American in 2007 and 2008 as a high school star in Arroyo Grande.

Dome graduated from Arroyo Grande High School and was considered a top-10 recruit in the nation. He was the Mustangs’ No. 1 singles player his freshman year when he developed chronic hip pain.

After three months of pain, Dome consulted a doctor, who told him it was a strained groin. Dome continued to train while doing exercises to strengthen his groin.

The pain returned fall of his sophomore year during a tournament.

“That week my hip was hurting so bad I could barely walk,” Dome said. “I knew there was something wrong.”

Dome said his next step was to get a second opinion. A specialist in San Francisco said his pain was a result of his hip joint grinding against the bone.

Last February, he had hip surgery to fix the problem.

The surgery meant Dome had to spend the 2010 season on the bench. It was three months after the surgery before he started playing tennis again, starting with just one to two hours a week.

Head coach Justin McGrath said he is pleased to see Dome playing again because, for a time, it was doubtful that he would return.

“He could have lost it,” McGrath said. “And he’s just hung in there.”

Dome said he “hung in there” by recognizing the importance of exercise and using several different workout strategies to stay fit while he was recovering. Before he could run or put much stress on his hip, he frequented the gym to work on his upper body strength.

“I was trying to keep my body as fit as I could,” Dome said.

He started swimming and biking, and even adjusted his diet because he couldn’t be as active, becoming a vegetarian for about 10 weeks.

Dome said his biggest recovery strategy was to face everyday one at a time, instead of looking to the distant future.

“Every morning I was just like, ‘What could I do that day to get better?’” Dome said.

Taking 12 units last spring quarter, Dome found he had more free time on his hands than he was used to. He used his downtime to write out what he needed to work on to improve his tennis game.

“From my standpoint … I’ve become a better player,” Dome said.

Dome, who has been playing tennis since he picked up a racket at the age of 5, said becoming an even better player is going to be a challenge.

“I haven’t really played in a year and a half,” Dome said. “I know it’s going to take time.”

With one of their star players back, the team has set their sights on winning the Big West Conference this season.

Last year the Mustangs felt Dome’s absence with a rough start to their season, losing in the first seven matches. The Mustangs rallied, though, making it to the Big West finals but then lost to UC Irvine.

McGrath said this year is a fresh start with a brand new group of players.

Freshman Marco Comuzzo said the team dynamic is looking strong this year.

“Obviously with Andre back from injury it boosts the lineup,” Comuzzo said. “Everyone on the team hits a good ball.”

This year, the team hopes to win their conference, though their number one goal, McGrath said, is to get into the NCAA rankings.

“We’ve got a tough schedule but we’re excited about playing it,” McGrath said. “We’ve got to be even-keeled, take one match at a time.”

Dome said the team has a good dynamic heading into the 2011 season. As for Dome’s performance on the court, McGrath holds no specific expectations — he’s just glad to see Dome playing again.

“For me, I’m just happy that he’s happy,” McGrath said. “I just want to have him have fun; I know he’s going to get better.”

Before his injury, Dome took tennis somewhat for granted. Now, he said, his surgery and recovery have made him more appreciative of the sport. Not knowing whether he would return to tennis competitively means he enjoys it more now.

“I’m very fortunate that I can be out on the court,” Dome said.

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