Players of Penn men's tennis convene in Philadelphia from seven states and three countries to compete as the Red and Blue. With players from California, Arizona, Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New York; and internationals from Canada, Germany, and Italy, the roster is one of the most geographically diverse in Penn sports.
It is not a surprise that domestic players assume the majority of the team, with the U.S. accounting for 24.8% of players and 46.6% of clubs worldwide, according to the International Tennis Federation. But with students from across the country and the world, the team provides players from a variety of experiences before coming to Penn an opportunity to compete as one team.
Senior Jason Hildebrandt, originally from Pinneberg, Germany, has been wearing Red and Blue for four years. Hildebrandt started playing tennis at age four and has played as the No.1 slot for Penn in both singles and doubles.
“I started playing tennis in a club. In Germany, tennis is not really connected to schools as it is here, so it’s kind of on your own outside of school,” said Hildebrandt. “In Germany, soccer is always number one, and is definitely a heavy focus. I honestly didn't like too much about tennis until eight or nine when I started playing tournaments.”
Though not the most celebrated sport in Germany, tennis still enjoys great popularity in the country. With more than 5 million tennis players, Germany accounts for 5.2% of the tennis population worldwide.
“For me, it was always a dream to go to college and play college tennis,” Hildebrandt said.
Since Germany doesn’t have a collegiate tennis conference, Hildebrandt decided to continue his career in the states.
“Another big reason is that when you go to university in Germany, it’s not connected to sports," Hildebrandt said. "It’s a lot difficult to combine sports and good academics.”
One of the German’s doubles partners on the court, junior Edoardo Graziani, is a native of Padua, Italy. Since the start of his journey at Penn, Graziani has played every single match in the top two slots in both singles and doubles for the Red and Blue.
Graziani’s experience playing tennis while growing up reflects the growth of the tennis community in his home country.
“I’m Italian, but I grew up in Switzerland for the most part of my life," Graziani said. "When we moved to Switzerland, my parents just signed me up for an after-school tennis camp."
Like Hildebrandt, soccer was a big competitor to tennis in Graziani's experience.
"I was 11 when I was good enough in both tennis and soccer, and I had to make a decision," Graziani said, "because up until that point, I was playing tennis half a week and playing soccer half the week. In order to become good at one, I needed to sort of drop the other.”
Graziani eventually chose tennis, inspired by Roger Federer, the Swiss tennis star.
“The reason why tennis is big is basically because of Roger Federer,” Graziani said. “His success gave rise to so much advancement of the sport in Switzerland. So many people, no matter what age, looked up to him and wanted to start playing tennis.”
Switzerland, though a small country, has 6.1% of its population playing tennis, which ranked 6th in the world (U.S. is 6.54%, Germany is 5.37%). Moreover, Switzerland has abundant access to tennis resources – 6.4% of tennis coaches are registered in the country, making it 8th in the world.
With about one-fourth of its players being international, the men’s tennis team owns the most proportion of international student-athletes among all the men’s athletic teams. Other Ivy League tennis teams, though, tend to have more international student-athletes: Dartmouth, for example, has a majority of international players on their roster.
Opening the season with consecutive wins, the team will look forward to tallying further victories with its unique teamwork attributable to its players of various backgrounds. Hildebrandt and Graziani, the formidable pair, will aim to continue the winning momentum.