Lleyton Cronje Named Big 12 Men's Tennis Player of the Week

by Alex Clough

ORLANDO – The new era of UCF men’s tennis is off to a flying start, and today, the Big 12 Conference recognized the Knights’ captain Lleyton Cronje following a dominating start to the 2024 campaign.

Following a doubleheader sweep and two victories over North Florida and Georgia Southern this past weekend to open play at the USTA National Campus, fifth-year Cronje garnered his first Big 12 Player of the Week honor, announced by the league office Tuesday.

The resident leader of the team has been crucial in ushering in head coach Lloyd Bruce-Burgess’ new identity, which has quickly come to fruition. Four victories across their first four matches have the Knights in a position not attained this century. UCF’s 4-0 start, its first since 1999, has brought an edge to a squad embarking on its first season in one of the nation’s premier conferences.

At the forefront of both the locker room and the court, Cronje has led by example thus far, jumping out to a perfect start on court two in singles, along with securing two wins alongside Santiago Giamichelle in doubles on court one.

Entering his third season in Orlando and last at the collegiate level, the Pretoria, South Africa, native has built upon a promising 2023 campaign in which he was named to the American Athletic Conference All-Singles Team.

Cronje commenced the new season with a straight-set, 7-5, 7-5, win over UNC Wilmington’s Bekhzod Rasamatov, which led to the eventual match-clincher from Liam Branger on court four. In the nightcap, he swung the lead back into the Knights' favor with a swift 6-2, 6-2, victory over Coastal Carolina’s Ryuya Ata.

A back-and-forth duel transpired in the home opener versus North Florida. Cronje took the first set 6-4 before dropping his first set of the season in the second, 6-3. With the match already in UCF's hands, he secured the fifth and final point for the Knights, prevailing in the third set, 6-3.

Sunday’s contest against Georgia Southern saw another strong performance in singles, with Cronje securing his first match-clinching win of the season against the Eagles’ Dimitris Paliouras. He has now won three matches in straight sets this season and it is also his third match with mirroring sets, taking Sunday’s duel 6-4, 6-4.

Over the fall, Cronje teamed up with UT Arlington Transfer Giamichelle in doubles play, eventually winning the ITA Southeast Regional title in October at Georgia Tech. Ranked 20th by ITA entering 2024, the tandem notched triumphs in the squad’s first and last matches of the week.

Against the Chanticleers, the duo broke serve three times en route to the 6-0 win. On Sunday against Georgia Southern’s Pol del Castillo and Paliouras, they produced another dominating 6-1 victory.

The undefeated start marks his best in Black and Gold and the second time Cronje has won his first four contests (2020 at Virginia Commonwealth). Today’s honor bestows Cronje with his first Player of the Week award at UCF and his first since winning the Atlantic 10 Performer of the Week honors in March of 2021 while at VCU.

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