While training in Puerto Rico this summer, Alex Hayre-Perez ’20 gained the attention of the Puerto Rican Tennis Team recruiter, who invited him to play for the team as one of two 18 and Under (U18) athletes representing Puerto Rico at an international tournament in Guayaquil, Ecuador, from November 9 to 12.
Prior to the tournament, Alex—a strong doubles and singles player—had only ever been affiliated with the school’s Boys’ Varsity Tennis team, which he joined as an eighth grader. But this past summer, while training at the Torrimar Tennis Club near his family’s house in San Juan, he enrolled in the club’s biggest seasonal tournament and went on to win in the 16 & Under (U16) division, beating two players who are now his teammates on the island’s premiere team. After those victories, the team’s recruiter approached him and offered him the chance to train with the group and represent Puerto Rico internationally.
“I’m used to feeling like I’m training alone, but there’s more of a community on the [Puerto Rico] team,” Alex said. “You can show up to the court, grab someone from your team, and just begin working on whatever you want.”
Along with Puerto Rican citizens, players of Puerto Rican descent from the U.S. Virgin Islands or the United States, such as Alex, who is half-Puerto Rican, are eligible to compete on the team. Several different coaches in the Torrimar club coach the team, which is usually assembled according to tennis rankings of high school players across the territory. Even though the team has a full roster, the coaches are always on the lookout for more players, Alex said.
Although he has never lived in Puerto Rico and only speaks a little Spanish, Alex has strong ties to the territory—his mother and half of his family grew up on the island—and it was during one of his summers in Puerto Rico that he first began playing tennis. Tennis is one of the most popular sports on the island, Alex said, and he quickly felt at home with the other players. Almost everyone on the team speaks fluent English, but Alex said they still sometimes have trouble communicating through language barriers.
“The sport has no language,” Alex said. “We’re all working on getting better at our sport and can understand each other.”
His plan now is to train and compete with the team during school breaks and in the summer, when he is usually in Puerto Rico visiting family.
During the tournament in Ecuador, the Puerto Rican team played round-robin style against two other teams from Ecuador in matches split into age divisions. Each division consisted of two players who competed in both singles and doubles matches and who played into other age groups according to the coaches’ decisions. On Alex’s first day of the tournament, he played two singles matches in the U18 division and went on to play another singles match and a doubles match in the U16 division because his coaches wanted him to gain experience in multiple divisons.
While the team did not do as well as Alex had hoped, winning several matches but none of the age divisions, he said he still enjoyed himself and learned a lot.
“I had never competed on a clay court before, or in a different language,” he said, “and there was high-quality play throughout, so I had to work really hard to keep up with the guys.”
“The support I had from my teammates was just amazing because we joke around and have fun, but everyone’s also really serious about the sport,” Alex added.
Nicolás Álvarez, one of Alex’s teammates, said Alex’s determination has made him a valuable addition to the team.
“It’s been amazing having Alex on the Puerto Rico tennis team because of many different reasons, but the most important ones are his dedication and fighting spirit in court,” Nicolás wrote in an email. “In other words, no matter what, he would never give up, and he still has sportsmanship in and outside the court.”
Alex expressed gratitude for his coaches, who he said have gotten him through doubts and mental blocks caused by the game. A lot of his achievements, including making the Puerto Rican team, are due to their instruction and support, he added.
“Tennis as a sport is very mental,” Alex said. “There were times when I was learning the game where it was super frustrating, and I didn’t want to play anymore, so I took seasons off, but now it’s something I love to do.”
Alex spent a week in December training with the team in Puerto Rico and is now preparing for an international tournament held on the island in March.