NORMAN, Okla. -- The Oklahoma men’s tennis team’s No. 1 and No. 2 singles players grew up within 200 miles of each other. That hardly seems unusual, until you realize the renaissance of Sooner tennis began in Spain.
Some 5,000 miles away from their current home courts, Guillermo Alcorta and Axel Alvarez met on the junior circuit. However, the Sooner teammates and doubles partners didn’t have a relationship until arriving on Oklahoma soil.
Alcorta and Alvarez are from the Northern part of Spain, hailing from Bilbao and Asturias, respectively. Coming from a country where soccer is considered king, both Alcorta and Alvarez played tennis and soccer simultaneously growing up. As they got older they knew they had to make a choice, and both decided to make tennis their priority.
“I used to play soccer and tennis at the same time until I was 12,” Alvarez explained. “Then I had to decide because it was impossible to practice both the sports. It was hard to choose because I had a lot of friends that play soccer. But tennis is an individual sport and when you win, you win for you. I just liked it better at the time.”
Once Alvarez opted to focus primarily on tennis, he began playing for Centro Asturiano de la Habana. He began taking lessons and competing in tournaments within his age group. As for Alcorta, the senior began his career at the R.C. Jolaseta Tennis Club and played in the country club league.
After their runs in their respective leagues came to an end, the two Spaniards had to decide whether to keep playing professionally or attempt the college route.
“I tried to play professionally for a while,” Alcorta said. “I played for a couple of years and then I decided to come here. I had friends who came here and talked about how competitive the level of American college tennis was and you were still able to get your degree.”
For Alvarez, however, the decision wasn’t that simple. He didn’t decide to attend a university until two years ago.
“I didn’t think about college at all until I was like 18 or 19 years old,” Alvarez said. “I was playing Spanish federation futures tournaments and I got injured and had to have surgery. I didn’t play for six months and I wasn’t playing well. I had a lot of friends that came to America and they talked good things about this experience. That’s when I started thinking about college.”
Those decisions have paid dividends for the Sooners.
Alcorta was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2012 and the Most Outstanding Player of the Big 12 Championship in 2013, helping the Sooners claim the conference crown in back-to-back years. In the fall, Alcorta made the finals of the ITA All-American tournament.
Last season, Alvarez was named the ITA Central Region Rookie of the Year and Big 12 Freshman of the Year. To begin the 2013-14 seasons, Alvarez won the ITA Central Region singles championship.
Both Alvarez and Alcorta credit their relationship outside tennis, with them having success on the court.
“Our communication is so good because we both play the same style of tennis,” Alvarez stated. “He knows how I play, and I know how he plays. That is a huge help. Almost everyone in Spain plays the same type of doubles, and it’s not nearly as aggressive as it is here.”
Alcorta added by saying that because the two have such a strong relationship off the court, it makes encouraging each other easier and helps the pair win matches.
Once the Spaniards’ college careers come to a close, they don’t think they’ll attempt the professional path.
“To have a good life with tennis you have to be at least top-100 ATP,” Alvarez said. “And it’s really hard to make it there and stay there. I want to stay in the U.S. for sure, probably Miami [Florida] or California and start teaching tennis.”
Alcorta doesn’t think he’ll continue to play, but he’s also not completely against trying to further his career.
“I really want just play league tennis,” Alcorta explained. “But I might stick with it for a little while and see what happens. The concept of playing professionally here is way different than in Spain. People here think that to go professional means to just play professional tournaments and we’ve already done that.”
Before the two settle on post-graduate careers, however, there’s still the challenge of taking OU tennis through uncharted waters.
The Sooners are the favorite for a third straight Big 12 title after knocking off No. 1 Ohio State and reaching a program-best No. 2 ranking.
“I think we both left Spain with chips on our shoulders,” Alvarez said. “Our vision was to come here and to beat the best. And we’re proving we belong.”