Edoardo Graziani came into this season with an already-impressive list of accomplishments. The men's tennis senior was the 2021-22 Ivy League Player of the Year — the first Quaker to ever receive the honor — and competed at the NCAA Individual Championships.
But he would have to wait until this season — his fourth in the Red and Blue — to have one of the most fulfilling experiences of his collegiate career: a chance to play alongside his brother, freshman Manfredi Graziani.
“To have my senior send-off with my brother on the team is really special,” Edoardo said. “We have really dedicated coaches, a great, committed team, and we’re excited to see where this season takes us.”
For the brothers, though, playing together is nothing new. And for Manfredi, neither is following his brother and mentor.
After moving from Padua, Italy to Zurich while they were very young, Edoardo — and then Manfredi — got involved in tennis. Both brothers played the sport throughout their upbringing, traveling to different tournaments and competing internationally.
“It was a time where tennis was growing in Europe because of [20-time Grand Slam Champion Roger] Federer,” Edoardo said. “And with the popularity of the sport surging, the environment [of the sport] pushed us to play.”
The brothers attended an international high school in Switzerland, where they picked up different languages and aspired to play tennis at a high level. And as graduation neared, the brothers knew that continuing the sport at a university in the United States provided the best chance at fulfillment, with Manfredi saying "college tennis is a great transition point for players that want to go to pro but still want to get matches in.”
Another advantage of playing in college is the academics; both brothers stressed the importance of balancing their academic and athletic lives. Edoardo said that a huge part of his decision came down to "being able to combine tennis and academics" at Penn.
And while some student-athletes find balancing Division I athletics and a class schedule challenging, neither brother seemed particularly fazed by the challenge. In high school, they took IB classes and didn't opt for online school, unlike other high-level athletes. Edoardo credits this experience as crucial in helping them grow, and even said that Penn is less straining than high school in some respects.
"We’ve balanced school and [tennis] our whole lives," he said. "It almost seems easier sometimes here because there’s a system in place to allow you to do both."
Even though the brothers are now teammates, that hasn't stopped them from building camaraderie with the rest of the squad. Practice is a highlight of their days, travel provides time to bond, and matches offer a chance to compete for something larger than themselves.
“I really enjoy it and love getting to play for others,” Manfredi said. “Both of us were used to playing a lot of tournaments and traveling around, but you always traveled with your coach and maybe your parents. … [But] when you come here, it’s completely different. You really have a supportive team.”
Edoardo agreed with everything, emphasizing that playing with the Quakers is "different from what we were used to before, when we’d play for ourselves.”
Despite the base of support throughout the team, Manfredi, new to everything at Penn, certainly appreciates having his brother here as a guide and mentor.
“Having Eddie here was a way for me to transition from living back home to having to live alone on the other side of the ocean, which was kind of tough,” he said. “So I’m definitely thankful for him helping to smooth that.”
On the court, results are showing. Recently, Edoardo and his doubles partner Kevin Zhu were ranked No. 2 nationally for all of NCAA Division I. Manfredi has a 5-1 record in singles this season and says that "throughout the season, I’ve definitely gotten more confident."
But for how much this year has been a dream come true for both brothers, it almost didn't come to pass. Since Edoardo came to Penn in 2018, he could have graduated last year. But given that he took a gap year during the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19, the NCAA granted him an extra year of eligibility, and the brothers can share the Red and Blue for a season.
“One of the biggest reasons I decided to take a gap year during COVID-19 was so that I could overlap with my brother,” Edoardo said. “It’s cool to see he’s [been] playing really well this season."
And while winning is always at the forefront of their minds, at the end of the day, the Graziani brothers love the sport and the energizing, competitive atmosphere that college tennis has. As Edoardo put it, "I’ve had some great moments individually and collectively, but in general, just getting to go to practice everyday is special.”