From off-court best friends to on-court doubles partners, sophomore Zach Smith and junior Jason Hildebrandt have been through it all as Quakers.
In addition to being two of Penn men's tennis' best singles players, Smith and Hildebrandt are Penn’s No. 1 doubles pairing this season. In the shortened spring season, the two have lost their doubles match only once, helping Penn to perform well in doubles action overall this season.
Even before competing alongside one another, the two found the decision to become a pairing an easy one.
“We started doing a lot off the court in the beginning of the year,” Hildebrandt said. “Then, when we found out we would actually have matches, we tried [playing together] a bit in practice and worked out well as doubles partners.”
One thing that was instrumental in the pairing’s decision to compete with each other was the foundation of their off-court relationship.
“The connection we have off court definitely helped us to become a good doubles team, and we were able to carry that through this season,” Hildebrandt said.
In tennis, chemistry between doubles partners can play a large role in the success a pairing has during competition. The Quakers have enjoyed success in doubles this season, and it has largely been due to the strong relationship between their top pairing.
“For me personally, I think 90% of a good doubles team is the chemistry between the guys,” Smith said. “We’ve generally been really close … Hanging out as much as we do, the connection we have definitely helps out on the court. We understand each other.”
Smith and Hildebrandt have become nearly inseparable since stepping onto Penn’s campus, as they have forged a close friendship. Years of going to practice together and hanging out with each other have allowed them to serve almost as a second family for each other.
“It’s almost kind of like we’re brothers,” Smith said. “I’ll eat with him, [or] we’ll go to practice together, and then be like, ‘Let’s go grab dinner.’ I’ll wake up and send him a text … it’s honestly like a relationship with my family."
Spending a large amount of time together off the court has allowed the pair’s chemistry to shine through on the tennis court. In a sport where chemistry can play a large part in an athlete’s success on the court, this time together has been instrumental in helping the two improve as athletes.
Even when Penn athletic activities were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith and Hildebrandt found ways to spend time together and continue to strengthen their relationship.
“When we didn’t have matches, we kind of tried to make up for the time we would’ve spent together on the tennis court,” Hildebrandt said. “We just spent that off the court.”
While spending time off the court together has been enjoyable for both, like many athletes, the two were eager to resume competition this spring. When they finally got the opportunity to compete alongside one another, it was just as much fun as they had imagined it.
“[It has] just been a lot of fun, honestly,” Hildebrandt said. “Just on the court, [we're] really enjoying it. We have so many shared experiences together, and that’s just great. We hope to continue it next year.”
This shortened season has allowed for Smith and Hildebrandt’s friendship to be on full display. However, even when they aren’t lined up next to each other on the tennis court, they can still be seen around campus with their teammates.
“Sometimes we’ll get a couple other guys, and we pretty much spend the whole day together from wake up until super late at night,” Smith said. “Whether it’s exploring Philadelphia, throwing some tennis, meeting up with some friends, it’s just great being all together.”
Despite the wide range of activities the two do together, one of their favorites involves riding around town.
“One iconic thing we always do together … I have an electric scooter, they have three skateboards, so we kind of ride around the town,” Hildebrandt said.
Whether it’s on the court or off the court, Smith and Hildebrandt will almost certainly be seen together, and they will be a pairing to watch next season when Penn men’s tennis resumes play.
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