Vimuktha De Alwis has played tennis around the world his entire life. From Malawi and Melbourne to Jakarta and Jordan, he has traveled great distances to play the sport he loves.
Finally, he has settled in Philadelphia to play collegiate tennis at Penn.
“In the international stage, you do everything to fit what you’re used to and what you’re comfortable with,” De Alwis said. “Here, I really like it because you get to support your teammates and cheer them on … Actually, I prefer being in a team environment. We have a great group of guys here. I’m really enjoying it.”
De Alwis, who is referred to as “Mr. Vim” by his teammates, has had an impressive start to his Penn career. He is tied with fellow freshman Blaine Willenborg for the most singles wins with 10.
Dubbed a “future star for Sri Lanka” by the country’s national newspaper at the age of 12, De Alwis has only just begun to show his potential with the Quakers.
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De Alwis’s story begins in 1994. Born in Sri Lanka, he moved with his family to the African country of Malawi a few months after he was born. It was there that he was first introduced to tennis.
“My dad used to play squash for Sri Lanka,” De Alwis said. “While he played squash, he got me to play tennis at a sports club. I played in a few tournaments, like Under-6 and Under-8. I was pretty decent, so I just continued.”
After winning the U-8 tournament in Malawi, De Alwis became more invested in the sport. Soon, he was flying to Sri Lanka to compete in tournaments, even as his family moved from Malawi to Kenya to Indonesia.
As he kept playing, the accolades kept coming, and by 2008 he had captured both the U-12 and U-14 Junior National titles in Sri Lanka.
A few months after winning the U-14 tournament, De Alwis began playing for Jeff Landau, a coach at the British International School in Jakarta, Indonesia and former ATP-ranked tennis player.
“I can’t say enough about Vim as a person,” Landau wrote in an email. “He is one of my favorite kids I have ever coached. I have been in tennis for over 30 years, and it’s rare to find a player who is talented, works extremely hard and is humble … If you spend even a little time around him, you will walk away with a great impression of him.”
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One of Landau’s first experiences coaching De Alwis was in early 2009. It was summer in Indonesia, which meant stifling humidity and extremely high temperatures. Landau challenged De Alwis throughout practice and waited for him to say that he couldn’t do any more. But he never did.
“Most kids and even some professionals would have broken after 20 minutes of what we were doing,” Landau said. “And we were going on for hours. He never said anything to me but just did everything asked of him at 120 percent intensity and effort.”
After the long workout, Landau was heading to his car when one of his other players rushed over to him.
De Alwis had collapsed.
Landau sprinted over to the vomiting and immobile 15-year-old, lifted him into the back of his car and hurried to the hospital. De Alwis spent most of the night at the hospital.
“After that, I was careful to push him but not overpush, because I knew he would never tell me he can’t do anymore,” Landau wrote. “He would literally run himself to death before complaining or stopping.”
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Two years later, in the summer of 2011, Landau and his player flew to New Haven, Conn., for the Donovan Tennis Showcase in order to help De Alwis get recruited in the United States. Landau admitted he had been nervous about the showcase.
“[Vim] would have to play after arriving just two days before the tournament — following a 21-hour flight and a 12-hour time change — against players who had no travel at all,” Landau wrote. “On top of that, this was his only chance to show [American coaches] what he could do on a tennis court. The pressure had to have been immense.”
De Alwis didn’t waiver. He defeated all of his opponents at the showcase, including ITF-ranked and current Harvard freshman Kelvin Lam.
“That right there says all you need to know about his ability and toughness,” Landau wrote.
Numerous coaches at the showcase took notice of De Alwis’ performance. One of them was Penn tennis head coach David Geatz.
“Coach Geatz came by and asked me, ‘Who is that kid?’” Landau recalled. “I then told him a little about Vim, and I remember his exact words were, ‘I’ve seen enough. This kid can play.’”
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Shortly after the tournament, De Alwis took an official visit to Penn, and in April 2012, he officially decided to sport the Red and Blue.
While he had a good fall season, it wasn’t always easy, as he dropped two of his three matches in his first collegiate tournament.
“It is pretty common with international kids that they have a slow start,” Penn assistant coach Ty Schaub said. “You know, they are trying to get used to a new country, school and everything. It takes them awhile to adjust. I think that is what happened to him, but now he’s playing a lot better.”
“I feel like I’m [playing] pretty well now,” De Alwis said. “Now it’s just about keeping it up and working hard. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep it up in the spring and do well for Penn.”
Not only has De Alwis found his groove on the court, but he has also developed a great rapport with his teammates and coaches.
“[Vim] is just a great guy,” Schaub said. “He is one of the guys’ favorites on the team. He’s pretty laid back, which is a little different from his on-court personality.”
With the fall season over and conference play starting in January, the Penn tennis team will be looking to take the Ivy League crown this year. De Alwis could be they key to the Quakers winning their first championship since 2007.
Landau believes De Alwis’ potential is infinite.
“He doesn’t really have a ceiling as far as what he is capable of in tennis,” he wrote. “With his talent, attitude and work ethic, he has a chance to do anything.”