A tennis player migrating to the United States on an athletic scholarship is no longer a novelty. Nowadays, even for players who aspire to make it to the professional circuit, college tennis is the norm.
Currently, a teenager securing a spot in the ATP (especially) or WTA top 100 is a long shot. It’s a privilege only a few super-prospects can dream of achieving. The vast majority of young guns aren’t physically or mentally prepared to compete against the best players in the world. In modern tennis, it’s taking more time for players to reach their physical apex. As a result, we’re seeing more professionals extend their careers into their mid or late 30s. On the other hand, youngsters are struggling to make it to the big leagues and remain competitive up there.
Let’s look into several cases of the so-called NextGen crew:
Standout junior players such as South Korea’s Hyeon Chung or USA’s Taylor Fritz blitzed through the ranks all the way until the edge of the top 50 after dominating the Challenger circuit. Nevertheless, unable to string together wins at top tier events, they both plummeted almost 100 spots. Australian rising star Thanasi Kokkinakis was a steady improver until his body broke down. Even Alexander Zverev, arguably the most polished prospect in a decade, has had to deal with setbacks in previous seasons. The German phenomenon has grown a couple inches since he first broke into the top 100 so he has had to adapt his game to his enlarging body on the fly.
Anyway, the aforementioned players have all been junior Grand Slam champions or finalists. US college tennis has not been able to lure top-notch internationals over the last few years, unlike with American starlets such as Chase Buchanan (US Open 2009 – Ohio State) or Jordan Cox (Wimbledon 2009 – Georgia Gwinnett).
While the crème de la crème are opting to turn pro as teens, the NCAA has been successfully attracting players that belong in the next tier. Those whose ultimate goal is to play professional tennis but are aware the journey is rocky and uncertain. This sort of athlete is will make a decision between two options:
Realistically, this path implies a weekly grind on the ITF circuit over several seasons, hopefully improving one’s ranking until a breakthrough allows the player to move up to the Challengers. The precarious conditions of the lower tier tournaments derail the careers of many aspiring pros.
Current ATP No. 180 Joao Domingues is an example of a player who has enjoyed moderate success through this route. Despite his lack of pedigree as a junior, he decided to give tennis a shot and steadily climbed up the rankings. He moved on from the Futures phase in 2017, as a 23-year-old. Important fact: at this time last year, Domingues was sitting at the 453 spot in the world standings.
Athletic scholarship in the United States
Those who choose this option elect to mature both physically and emotionally in North America for four years. The level of training and competition is high. Facilities and equipment are miles ahead the ITFs. As previously stated, a 22-year-old is more capable of enduring a season full of ups and downs playing Futures. What if the attempt at becoming an established ATP player fails? He can always use his college degree and exploit the professional network he built within his team, fraternity, business school, etc. Not a bad alternative, isn’t it?
23-year-old Joao Monteiro, from Portugal like Domingues, opted to play college tennis. He received a scholarship at Virginia Tech, where he drastically improved his playing prowess over four years. Unranked, he played and won his first Futures as a graduate in July 2016. Merely 11 months later, he is the No. 395 best player on Earth. In less than a year, Monteiro has managed to reach a higher ranking than his compatriot had after all those seasons exclusively playing tennis. The future looks bright, but if somehow he falters, the Portuguese can always use the top education acquired at Virginia Tech.
Here at VT Sports we do not hesitate in encouraging athletes to pick the B option.
Text: Pablo Mosquera