Penn’s men’s tennis players gather in Philadelphia from seven states and three countries to compete as 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 Pennsylvania sports.
It’s no surprise that national players make up the majority of the squad, with the United States 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 around the world, the team offers players with diverse experiences before coming to Penn the opportunity to compete as one team.
Senior Jason Hildebrandt, from Pinneberg, Germany, has been wearing red and blue for four years. Hildebrandt started playing tennis at the age of four and was No. 1 for Penn in singles and doubles.
“I started playing tennis at a club. In Germany, tennis isn’t really tied to schools like it is here, so it’s kind of all on its own outside of school,” said Hildebrandt. “In Germany, football is always number one, and it’s definitely a priority. Honestly, I didn’t really like tennis until I was eight or nine years old, when I started playing tournaments.
Although not the most famous sport in Germany, tennis still enjoys great popularity in the country. With more than 5 million tennis players, Germany represents 5.2% of the world’s tennis population.
“For me, it’s always been a dream to go to college and play college tennis,” Hildebrandt said.
Since Germany does not have a college tennis conference, Hildebrandt decided to pursue her career in the United States.
“Another big reason is that when you go to university in Germany, it’s not related to sports,” said Hildebrandt. “It’s very difficult to combine sport and good academics.”
One of the German’s doubles partners on court, junior Edoardo Graziani, hails from Padova, Italy. Since beginning his run at Penn, Graziani has played in every match in the top two in singles and doubles for the Reds and Blues.
Graziani’s experience playing tennis while growing up mirrors the growth of the tennis community in his home country.
“I’m Italian, but I grew up in Switzerland for most of my life,” Graziani said. “When we moved to Switzerland, my parents just signed me up for a tennis camp after school.”
Like Hildebrandt, football was a big competitor to tennis in Graziani’s experience.
“I was 11 when I was pretty good at tennis and football, and I had to make a decision,” Graziani said, “because until then I was playing tennis for half a week and football half a week. In order to get good at one, I had to kind of give up the other.
Graziani ultimately chose tennis, inspired by Swiss tennis star Roger Federer.
“The reason tennis is great is basically because of Roger Federer,” Graziani said. “His success has resulted in so much progress for the sport in Switzerland. So many people of all ages looked up to him and wanted to start playing tennis.
Switzerland, although a small country, has 6.1% of its population playing tennis, which ranks 6th in the world (the United States is at 6.54%, Germany at 5.37%) . Additionally, Switzerland has abundant access to tennis resources – 6.4% of tennis coaches are registered in the country, making it 8th in the world.
With around a quarter of its players being international, the men’s tennis team has the highest proportion of international student-athletes of any men’s sports team. Other Ivy League tennis teams, however, tend to have more international student-athletes: Dartmouth, for example, has a majority of international players on its roster.
Opening the season with back-to-back wins, the team will look forward to more wins thanks to their unique teamwork attributable to their players from diverse backgrounds. Hildebrandt and Graziani, the formidable pair, will aim to continue the winning streak.