In collegiate tennis, coaches are tasked with recruiting the best players in the state, region and country but also have the responsibility of pursuing talent around the world.
Whether it’s in pursuit of improved performance or a competitive advantage, programs are gaining new perspectives and cultures by recruiting internationally.
“International recruitment has enriched tennis in different ways,” said head coach Manuel Diaz. “The depth and quality of college tennis have improved dramatically since the mid-1980s when we started seeing an increase in opportunities for international kids. We have a responsibility to help develop American tennis as much as we can but also recognize the benefit of having international kids.”
Tennis is a worldwide sport. International recruitment is an important aspect of collegiate tennis programs, and it gives athletes the opportunity to compete at a high level outside the United States and NCAA.
That’s the case with the highly competitive Southeastern Conference. Nine of the 13 men’s tennis programs among the conference have rosters where international players outnumber or equal that of domestic players. Kentucky and Ole Miss have all but one international player on each of their rosters.
Georgia men’s tennis, however, is not one of the nine programs. The Bulldogs are tied with Florida for the second-lowest amount of international talent in the conference with three players each. Only Vanderbilt, with two, has less.
So what encourages international tennis players to compete in the Southeast? The opportunity to develop athletically while advancing academically, and to do so in some of the best facilities in the world.
“I think the international players value the opportunity to come over to the United States because they don’t have that collegiate opportunity in their countries,” assistant commissioner of SEC David Batson said. “They also bring a lot of culture and diversity to the team. They open the eyes of some of the domestic kids.”
A player from outside the U.S. brings a different perspective to the team compared to a player domestic to the respective school’s location. For example, some players grow up playing on clay courts instead of the hard courts used in NCAA competitions.
Georgia’s makeup of international players includes junior Philip Henning from South Africa, sophomore Erik Grevelius from Sweden and sophomore Baptiste Anselmo from France. And come next fall, Miguel Perez Peña from Spain and Mathis Debru from France, the two international recruits part of Georgia’s 2021 recruiting class, will join them.
“There are certain elements that an international student can add to the team that you can’t get from someone that grew up playing in America,” Henning said on the advantages of international recruitment. “In a way, it definitely gives us a competitive edge.”
Henning’s recruitment started via Facebook, where assistant coach Jamie Hunt reached out to the South African. Now he competes at No. 3 singles for the Bulldogs and ranks 19th in the country. Henning also partners with Grevelius, Georgia’s No. 6 singles player, at No. 3 doubles, and Anselmo has seen time at No. 3 doubles this season too.
Trent Bryde, Georgia’s No. 1 singles player and a Georgia native, says the three of them have adjusted to life in Athens, Georgia, well.
“They came in here, already spoke great English and have done really well,” Bryde said. “They’re doing great academically, and everyone just jives really well. It’s almost like it has more to do with how we grew up playing tennis, rather than where we grew up.”
Recruiting outside the country is investigative work because it’s hardly done in person. Coaches have to follow tournament results to evaluate talent and inquire about international players’ interests through text and phone calls.
Georgia men’s tennis has it all to offer when recruiting internationally. State-of-the-art facilities, successful program history and a head coach who knows the process of transitioning to a different climate.
Diaz was recruited from Puerto Rico to play at Georgia. Now he’s in his 33rd year as head coach for the Bulldogs.
“I came from Puerto Rico. I am a U.S. citizen born and raised, but my first language was Spanish,” Diaz said on his transition. “The food was different, the climate was different. All those things you had to adapt to, and it was a process. But by the time the season came around, I was very well acclimated.”
As for the facilities, Georgia tennis prides itself on them. Henning and Bryde eluded to the Dan Magill Tennis Complex and practice facilities as some of the best in the world and a privilege to play in.
After sweeping the first and second rounds against East Tennessee State and No. 25 Texas Tech, the 11th-ranked Bulldogs will play No. 6 North Carolina in the third round of the NCAA Tournament on May 17.