Former UVA Standouts
take college lessons to ATP Tour
Christina Aguis | April 19, 2018
It should not come as a surprise that former Virginia standouts Collin Altamirano, J.C. Aragone and Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, who helped their school snatch the NCAA Championship title each year from 2015-17, are now making inroads on the ATP tour.
The trio credits much of their success to their time at the University of Virginia.
“I think [playing college tennis] taught me how to look at how to benefit others,” said Altamirano. “Tennis is a bit of a selfish sport in a way because it’s an individual sport; when push comes to shove, you’re out there on your own. But with college, it’s a little different.
“You’re playing for a team and everything is with a team. I know our program at Virginia, it was all about the team. The whole goal at the end of the day is how far we can go as a team and what can we achieve as a team.”ADVERTISEMENT
Aragone (pictured) believes everyone should play college tennis because “it helps you see how the other half lives.” According to the 22-year-old, schoolwork changed his perspective. It was a big change to sit down in a library for a couple of hours a day, coming straight from junior tennis where schoolwork is less of a focus.
“You should’ve seen the freshman class. We were a disaster. But seeing the class go from year to year, you could tell that the classroom and being on the court helps you mature not only as a tennis player, but as a human being,” Aragone said.
Their tennis journey would not have been the same without going to college and experiencing a family atmosphere.
“We all really liked each other. It was definitely a family environment, right up to the coaches,” said Altamirano.
“It could’ve been easier for us to have an attitude of, ‘Well, I want to do my job, and I’ll see you guys later,’ and I just think that the coaches did such a good job of making us understand that in order to do well later on, you have to care for each other in every situation. It made it fun, it made it exciting, and we bonded really well.”
The Virginia team bonded with each other off the courts, and many of them even lived in the same apartment complex during their college careers.
“I remember living with three teammates. Right below me were Thai and Luca [Corinteli], and across from me was Mac [Styslinger], so it was extremely easy to just go down and see each other,” Aragone said.
In the end, the family environment is what helped the team to become NCAA champions, and former Virginia head coach Brian Boland, currently the head of men's tennis for USTA Player Development, was the reason for it.
“Brian always had different things to do, and you’re just with the guys at all times. You take trips to different schools, we’d drive down to Georgia, so it was kind of like a family. We’d see each other all day long,” Aragone said. “I truly think that at the end of the day, it’s not the best team that wins, but the one that’s with each other the most and is a family.”
Boland also taught them that there is more to life than tennis, and Aragone and Altamirano remember that now, along with all of their experiences from college, even while on tour.
The transition from college to the pros can be tough and different. One thing that Aragone misses is being with friends every day.
“College helped prepare me because it just got me so excited for professional tennis. Just being able to be on the court with all of your friends and being able to be together,” Aragone said. “It made me look forward to tennis, in general, but then again, tennis is a pretty lonely sport. [The transition] definitely hurt a little bit because you go from being with all of your best friends every day to being on the road a couple weeks at a time.”
However, that didn’t stop him from winning his first professional title in March at the USTA Pro Circuit $25,000 Futures event in Calabasas, Calif.
“To be honest, [the win] was really unexpected because I had just finished playing in Canada, and we weren’t sure if I should play. But I was already signed up, so I was going to try and make the best of it,” Aragone said.
The first couple of days of the tournament got rained out, giving him time to rest and recover.
“I started feeling good and next thing I know, I won the tournament. It’s really not something I expected to happen, but I made the most out of the opportunity I had,” Aragone said. “It was a great experience. The first title is always the hardest, from what I’ve heard from other people, so hopefully it can get easier now.”
For Altamirano, life on tour has been different.
“I started playing the Pro Circuit in January, and I’m out basically traveling and playing pro events,” he said. “I’ll be honest, there’s no set schedule or exact plan to it. It’s more when I can play. I try and go out and play, and I’ll see where I fall at the end of this year ranking-wise.”
For Altamirano, not having a set schedule is “not ideal but kind of fun.”
“We knew what the plan was, and my coaches knew what the next step was,” he said. “It’s not ideal, but it’s what I want, so I’m enjoying it. It’s exciting, but it would be grand if I knew what was next. I’m just playing it tournament by tournament.”
Altamirano, Aragone and Kwiatkowski aren’t the only former Virginia players making a name for themselves on the professional tour.
Danielle Collins, another former UVA star who was the seventh woman (and the first from the ACC) to win two NCAA singles titles, has recently made waves on the WTA Tour herself.
Following her senior season in 2016, she climbed into the WTA rankings at No. 751. Now, less than two years later, she finds herself within the Top 50 at No. 45.
That career-high ranking is thanks in large part to an incredible run at the Miami Open, where Collins motored through qualifying all the way to the semifinals, defeating Venus Williams and Coco Vandeweghe along the way.
Kwiatkowski has also done big things outside of Virginia. While in school, both he and Collins represented Team USA at the Master'U BNP Paribas, the world's most prestigious international college team competition that features teams from eight countries (Belgium, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Russia and the U.S.). Kwiatkowski helped the Americans bring home the crown in 2014, while Collins played on the first-place American squad in 2015.
Kwiatkowski also won the NCAA singles title in 2017 and was in the main draw of the 2017 US Open, along with Aragone.
It’s safe to say that Virginia pushes out some talented tennis players.