In the United States, the term ‘education‘ does not translate, to the concept of ‘education’ that we are familiar with in Italy or in Europe. Even the term ‘college‘ does not correspond to the Italian and European universities. In the United States colleges are much larger structures with world-class facilities; they are in fact small towns. Some of them even have their own police department. Extracurricular activities are one of the main ways in which students express their talents outside the classroom and are fully supported by the universities.
Among these activities we have sports. Not in the sense that the student has to sneak off campus to play tennis, perhaps feeling guilty for taking time away from books. In college, sports are a very serious matter. There are teams, coaches, there are stadiums with thousands of seats. The Tiger Stadium in New Orleans hosts the home games of the University of Louisiana football team and can hold more than one hundred thousand people. That’s about 250% of the Juventus Stadium capacity! Everything is under the NCAA. The NCAA was founded 114 years ago, it manages sports competitions and championships among US colleges. Don’t let the “university sports status” fool you. They take it extremely seriously and most professional football and basketball professionals are required to spend a year in the NCAA. The second of the six titles won by the University of North Carolina basketball, in 1982, materialized thanks to the decisive basket of Michael Jordan in front of 60,000 people and 17 million viewers. (Four times the spectators who attended the Wimbledon final between Federer and Djokovic last year).
The point is: in the United States you don’t have to choose whether to pursue a university degree or play sports at a high level, dreaming of a future as a professional athlete. You can do both.
It would be too simple to conclude that American sports culture, combined with the concept of education, is light years ahead of the Italian one. “I wouldn’t say so. It is a parallel universe. It’s like living on another planet, it’s not better or worse: it’s just different. The concept of the Italian university is not comparable the American college experience.” To tell us this difference is Nicolò De Fraia, known as ‘Nico’, since most Americans struggle with the pronunciation of his full name. In fact, Nico lives in Orlando, Florida, and at only 23 years old he is the Head Coach of the Rollins College tennis team. Difficult to track all the ages of all the coaches of the NCAA teams, but there is a rumor that Nico is the youngest of all; he is certainly among the youngest.
Nico was born and lived in Cagliari up to his teenage years; after being among the best under 12 and under 14 tennis players in Italy he moved to the Bruguera Academy in Barcelona for two years. He never returned home: first, he landed at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton, where in addition to the tennis training, he concluded the unusual ‘trilingual’ high school course started in Cagliari and continued in Barcelona. Consequentially, after high school, he accepted a tennis scholarship to play for the University of Central Florida (UCF), the largest university in the United States- with nearly 70,000 students this year. In 2017 he obtained his first degree in psychology and in the meantime, he trained under the wing of UCF Head Coach, John Roddick, Andy’s brother, and coach early in his career. Nico says: “John is a great person, like all the members of the Roddick family”. Nico talked well of his good friend Tommy Paul, who is currently ranked number 57 in the world: “I am convinced that he will do great things, from the baseline he is really strong.”
In search of a prestigious business school, De Fraia moved to Rollins College in Winter Park, the top-ranked business school in Florida according to Forbes, where he took advantage of the remaining two years of eligibility to continue playing in the NCAA championship. Following the excellent results on the court, in 2019 in which he had a 20-1 record at the top position, he received the honorary mention of ‘All American’, which is a prestigious honor reserved for a hypothetical American sports team composed of the best players in the league. In the same year, he completed his second degree in International Business and began a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA), simultaneously while accepting the role of assistant coach of the Rollins College men’s tennis team. In January of this year, the previous coach retired, and Rollins promoted Nico to the role of main coach which he holds with another coach.
Nico De Fraia’s story highlights the possibilities offered by American academic-sports programs to those who deserve them. Nico moved from UCF, University ‘Division I’, to Rollins College, which instead is in ‘Division II’ (there is also Division III). The difference is not purely sport based. The fact that in Division I colleges sports play at a semi-professional level which goes hand in hand with large monetary investments and intense recruiting methods, which favor the formation of more competitive teams. Nico says that in some games at UCF there was live TV. In prestigious Division II (and D-III) colleges, the focus becomes academic: in most cases, it makes no difference whether the candidate is an athlete or not, he must still have certain grades to be accepted.
This helps the growth of young athletes, who can make their choices based on their academic and athletic levels at 18 years old. A fundamental aspect of the youth’s developing path. Nico helps us understand this concept with the example of Jannik Sinner on one side, and Kevin Anderson and John Isner on the other. “Sinner is 18 years old and he is a top 100 ATP player; for him, it would make no sense to go to college because it would take time away from a professional career already started. However, if at that age the player is not developed enough to be a top professional, he can get an education and compete at semiprofessional levels until the age of 23 years and grow as a player and as a person, like Anderson and Isner did.” In fact, they faced each other as students, in a match for the NCAA title in 2007, when they were 21 and 22 respectively, and eleven years later competed for access to the Wimbledon final, during a grueling semi-final to the bitter end which sent the South African to challenge (unsuccessfully) Novak Djokovic.
The crucial difference between the two systems is that from the Italian, or more generally European tennis training path, a young athlete who has unsuccessfully attempted to become a professional is usually stuck without a valid working alternative because he invested everything in the sport. An athlete who instead attended college and at the same time tried to play tennis, even in case of failure, still has all the possibilities to build a professional curriculum outside of sports. These are possibilities that obviously must be seized by means of commitments, sacrifices (also economic), and great time management skills. Nico, who is an NCAA coach, MBA student, and will shortly begin an immersion track with NASA says: “Time management is extremely important here”.
Nico told us that he faced and beat Tsitsipas (a year younger than him) in a youth tournament when he was 15 years old, proving that he does not lack talent – and this is also supported by Claudio Pistolesi, who knows and trained him for some time in the United States. With great maturity, however, Nico also realized that probably even if he made the maximum effort, he would not have been able to make a good enough living off a career in future tournaments. The first doubts came after a shoulder injury from which he had difficulty recovering when he was still investing 100% in his tennis career. He rolled up his sleeves and left his comfort zone, first helped by the family and then walking on his own legs, and he understood that he had to invest also and above all in academics.
The skills that Nico acquired with his academic career proved to be essentials for him to manage the role of coach at a prestigious college like Rollins College founded in 1885. His roles involve sport-related decisions as well as manage the budget made available by the university and national-international recruiting. This mix of sports and academic careers makes us wonder one last question for him: How and where do you see yourself in ten years?
“I honestly don’t know, but I’m open to everything. I hope to be able to be in a place and position that benefit both myself and the community. Families need to understand that tennis can certainly be part of a boy’s growth, but it can’t be the top priority before a certain age, regardless of his level.”
Article originally written By Alessandro Stella and translated by Nicolò De Fraia
Hamad Medjedovic earns first place in Red Group at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah
Hamad Medjedovic beat Abdullah Shelbayh 3-4 (6-8) 4-2 4-3 (7-5) 4-2 to earn first place in the Red Group with a perfect 3-0 record at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah.
Medjedovic needed to win at least one set to reach the semifinals, while Shelbayh needed to win the match in three or four sets. Luca Van Assche qualified as the second-placed player from the Red Group.
Medjedovic will face Dominic Stricker in the semifinal, while Van Assche takes on Arthur Fils.
Medjedovic fired 18 aces and won 88 % of his first-serve points. He saved all three break points against Shelbayh.
Medjedovic fired a tournament-leading 45 aces and was broken twice.
Medjedovic saved three break points to hold serve in the fourth game of the first set. Shelbayh went up a mini-break twice, but Medjedovic pulled back on serve both times. Shelbayh won the final three points to clinch the tie-break 8-6. Both players went on serve in the first five games before Medjedovic earned the break to win the second set 4-2.
The third set went on serve with no break points en route to the tie-break. Shelbayh earned the first mini-break to take a 3-2 lead. Medjedovic pulled back on serve to draw level to 3-3. The Serbian player earned a second mini-break to close out the tie-break 7-5.
Medjedovic started the fourth set with an early break in the first game. He held on his next service games and sealed the win on his first match point.
Medjedovic set up a semifinal match against Dominic Stricker. Luc Van Assche will face Arthur Fils in an all-French semifinal.“It was a great match. I played really good after the first set He is a very good friend of mine. He is a very good player and obviously the crowd here loves him and I respect that. It was a pleasure to play in front of the crowd”, said Medjedovic.
Dominic Stricker cruises past Luca Nardi at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah
Third seed Dominic Stricker cruised past Luca Nardi 4-1 4-1 4-2 in 54 minutes in the fastest match in the history of the Next Gen Finals at the Next Gen ATP Finals at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah bouncing back from his defeat in the first match against Flavio Cobolli on Tuesday.
Stricker converted four of his six break points and hit 13 winners, including 3 aces.
Stricker came back from 15-40 down in the first game after two double faults from Nardi and broke serve with a return winner on the deciding point to take a 1-0 lead. The world number 94 saved three break-back-back points in the second game from 15-40 down before breaking for the second time in the fifth game to win the first set 4-1.
Stricker broke serve at 30 in the second game of the second set and held serve at love in the third game to race out to a 3-0 lead. Stricker served it out on his second set point.
Stricker earned an early break in the first game of the third set on the deciding point and held his next service games. Nardi saved the first match point but he hit his backhand into the net on the second match point after the longest rally of the match.
“We had a long discussion yesterday evening about how to do it today. I think it was really good that we talked a lot after what maybe was not my best performance. Now to come out today like that, I think nobody expected that. I am just happy that I did it and now I am going to try my best to recover for the third group match”, said Stricker. Stricker is now 1-1 in Green Group. The Swiss player is aiming to reach his second consecutive semifinal at the Next Gen Finals. He is looking to crown a good year after reaching the fourth round at the US Open.
Jannik Sinner, Arnaldi End Italy’s 47-Year Wait For Davis Cup Title
An in-form Jannik Sinner has secured Italy’s first Davis Cup title in almost half a century after crushing Alex de Minaur in straight sets.
The world No.4 headed into the crucial match with his country boasting a 1-0 lead over Australia after Matteo Arnaldi won his clash against Alexi Popryin in three sets. Taking on a fiery de Minaur, a composed Sinner surged to a 6-3, 6-0, victory in Malaga to hand his country an unassailable lead and the title. The dominant performance saw Sinner produce a total of 25 winners with 18 of them coming from his forehand side. It is the sixth time he has beaten de Minaur on the Tour and he is yet to lose against him.
“It helps a lot to play for the whole team,” Sinner said of his latest win. “It has been an incredible thing for all of us and we are really happy.”
Sinner first broke three games into his encounter with de Minaur after the Australian hit a lob shot that landed out. In control of proceedings, he rallied his way to 5-3 before opening up a 40-0 lead against his opponent’s serve. With three set points at his disposal, Sinner converted his second with the help of another unforced error coming from across the court.
Closing in on the historic victory, the 22-year-old was in clinical form throughout the second frame as he raced to a 5-0 lead in under 30 minutes. Destroying whatever hopes Australia had of a shock comeback. Sinner closed out the match on his third attempt after a De Minaur backhand drifted wide, prompting an almighty smile on his face.
“Thanks to Australia. I know with the new format it is a little bit different to have to all come to one place. it means a lot.” Said Sinner.
In the first match of the day, Arnaldi ousted Popryin 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, in a two-and-a-half-hour marathon. The world No.44, who made his Davis Cup debut in September, held his nerve throughout a tense deciding set where he saved all eight break points he faced. Overall, he hit a total of 40 winners past Popryin and was visibly emotional afterward.
“This match was very important and emotional for a few reasons,” Arnaldi told reporters.
“This year for me was the first time playing for my country. I played when I was junior, but Davis Cup is just different.’
“And three weeks ago, an important person passed away. I think he gave me the power to try to stay there (in the match). It wasn’t easy to play, but they gave me the power at the end to try to win.”
It is the second time in history Italy has won the Davis Cup and the first since 1976. The triumph caps off what has been a memorable week for the team who 24 hours earlier beat Novak Djokovic’s Serbia in the semi-finals with Sinner saving three match points against the world No.1 in the singles.
“I’m really thankful and proud to have these guys,” Italian captain Filippo Volandri commented.
“We have had to manage with a lot of emergencies during these past two years but we did it and we did it like a family.” He added.
Italy, who has become the 11th country in history to win Multiple Davis Cup titles, currently has six players in the ATP top 100 with four of those being in the top 50.
Hamad Medjedovic earns first place in Red Group at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah
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