One of the most popular sports worldwide is played on Oregon’s campus but is overlooked by many. With sports such as football, basketball and baseball, many people here in the U.S. don’t have a similar passion for tennis as many other countries do.
“Tennis is one of the absolute premier sports worldwide, and in many countries it is the number one or two sport. A lot of top athletes will play tennis,” men’s tennis head coach Nils Schyllander said.
But the men’s tennis team at Oregon understands that to have a successful tennis program they must get the best players available no matter which country they are from.
“If you look around (internationally), you see how big of an international sport tennis really is. We recruit the best possible student athletes we can find, whether he is from the U.S. or wherever he is from,” associate head coach Jonas Piibor said.
Both Piibor and Schyllander are natives of Sweden and played collegiate tennis in the U.S. with great success. Piibor played at Indiana State and was ranked as high as 28th in the nation in singles and 50th in doubles, and Schyllander was Northern Arizona University’s Men’s Athlete of the Year in 1995. Being from overseas, Piibor said they can relate to internationally-recruited athletes personally.
“Maybe we have something we can offer as far as relating to being far away from home and family and stuff like that,” Piibor said. “I think we can relate from personal experience a little bit better than a U.S.-born coach.”
The Ducks currently have four players from Europe, one from Australia, one from Mexico and the remaining four are from the U.S. But keeping up with international recruits isn’t too difficult for the Oregon coaching staff.
“With the Internet you follow what is going on in every tournament all across the world. You see who’s playing and who’s playing where. It’s instant access these days,” Schyllander said.
For international athletes, U.S. universities offer a unique opportunity to study and compete at a high level. For both Robin Cambier, a Belgium native, and Daan Maasland from Geldrop, Netherlands, going to the U.S. was the only option.
“It was the only way to continue my studies and play tennis at the same time,” senior Cambier said. “I knew one year before graduating (high school) that I wanted to go to the U.S. to study.”
Maasland echoed similar thoughts.
“If I wouldn’t have played tennis at this level I probably would have stayed in Holland, but it’s not possible to combine it (tennis and school) together there,” sophomore Maasland said.
With six of the 10 players coming from outside the U.S., the locker room for the Ducks is diverse, which “works well,” Maasland said.
For Cambier and other international students, coming to the U.S. is like coming to a “new world.” Being able to play tennis and study is something these international players can only do here — an opportunity that Cambier doesn’t regret.
“It’s the best choice I have ever made,” Cambier said.
Follow Andrew Bantly on Twitter @abant3