In the current Intercollegiate Tennis Association men’s singles rankings, the top five players are international, while the next five are American. With athletes from so many different countries, a unique perspective could be brought to any match, making the path to success more difficult.
“Considering that so many people are playing it across the world makes it extremely, extremely competitive,” said Silviu Tanasoiu, the head coach of the Cornell men’s tennis team, who is originally from Romania. “That is why you see in the world rankings right now there are so many Europeans and it used to be Americans. It’s very cyclical.”
Cornell, whose seven combined international players and coaches is the highest such number in the Ivy League, has five players born outside of America on a 12-man roster.
This is not the nation’s only example, as the starting rosters of the current top 75 programs in collegiate men’s tennis, according to stats shared by Bobby Knight, founder of CollegeTennisToday.com, feature a total of 58 international players to 42 Americans.
“In my opinion,” Knight said. “The international players have elevated the level of play in college tennis and made it a better sport.”
Knight, who attended the University of Georgia in the 1990s, noticed that some of the top programs had several international players on their roster. He has noticed more international athletes in the men’s game compared to women’s.
One possible explanation for this, according to Knight, is that women have eight scholarships while men have just four-and-a-half, delegating most of the partial or full scholarships to the roster’s top players. If the rankings are any indication, a lot of international players are getting a chance to lead teams.
Bruno Santarelli, Cornell’s assistant men’s coach from Brazil, also says something that has brought international athletes to America is the chance to keep playing their sport and get an education, an opportunity that is not as easy to come by in other countries.
“In Brazil we didn’t have a system of college athletics,” he said. “For us, the only way to [play a sport] is to either go professional or stop playing to study and go to the university. Coming to the U.S., you make it possible. Get an education and then after that you can try and play professional tennis.”
While this path seems ideal, the adjustment does not always come easy. Bernardo Casares, a junior on the team from Ecuador, has embraced adapting to the United States, a place he had never been until college.
“I didn’t know anyone besides the coach when I first came here,” he said. “I know it took me time to adjust, and I am still adjusting after three years, but overall I think I have been able to do it because of the help I received from my teammates and coaches.”
Since there are so many international players and coaches, an opportunity to learn from a variety of perspectives is created. Stefan Vinti, a senior on Cornell from Romania, has been able to pick a lot of brains in his college career.
“It gives you a very good perspective on life and how people go about training, problem solving and their academics,” said Vinti. “It gives you a great way to learn from other colleagues, from your coaches and pick what works best for them and try to take that and add that to yourself.”
Not only are they learning from each other, but Santarelli also notes that they are forming strong bonds that will last for life. From being involved in tennis, he has made relationships with people all over the world.
“I love to hear from other guys about what is different in their culture, where they come from, where they have been and how their family is doing,” Santarelli said. “We all play tennis so its like we speak the same language.”