How many head coaches do you know that are currently successful athletes in their own right? Vassar Men’s Tennis Team Head Coach Alex Wong has been picked to represent the United States this May in the Italia Cup of the World Team Championships. The tournament will take place this May in Umag, Croatia. This is a very competitive spot and an honor as Coach Wong is one of only four Americans picked to play in the 35 or “Young Seniors” age group. Coach Wong had a very good year in 2015, ranking first in the United States in the singles 30’s division.
Wong was named head coach of the men’s tennis team in the spring of 2013. In his brief time at Vassar, he has helped the Brewers upset nationally-ranked teams. In addition he has helped maintain the team’s top 20 regional ranking. Coach Wong himself played for Wesleyan University, an ultra-competitive New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) school at the one singles position. During his time as a collegiate player, he was ranked in the top 15 in the East Region, climbing as high as eighth regionally and No. 32 nationally in 2002.
As a coach, Wong is a strong supporter of sportsmanship and fair play. His players speak highly of him as both a coach and a player. Junior men’s tennis player Nick Litsky said, “Alex is not a typical loud and rowdy coach. For the most part he’s pretty quiet, but he knows exactly what to say at the right times. He’s a really good motivator and has helped me reach a point that I would have never gotten to.”
As one of Alex’s players, Litsky has had the opportunity to play with Alex personally, “He’s a very smart player and exploits weaknesses very well, he doesn’t let you feel comfortable when you’re playing him.” Senior captain Evan Udine reiterated these feelings, “Alex is the type of player that no one wants to play. He’s annoying because he does whatever it takes to win and break down his opponent. He can defend, rally with anyone and attack when he needs to. He is an extremely smart player and has worked very hard to get to where he is, so it is awesome for him to get this kind of opportunity.”
Alex has been a lifelong impressive player ranking consistently in the top before and through college. Wong said, “When I was younger, I was a decent player as I was consistently ranked in the top 10 or 15 in New England. In college, I felt I developed into a better player, as I had to as the No. 1 player on the team.” He evaluates the team from many different aspects helping to improve his own game as well as the team’s game. “I am fortunate that during the season that I have the opportunity to work with the players individually. I think that being able to hit with the players during the season gives me an opportunity to understand what opponents experience when they play members of the team. I feel that it allows for me to get into the mind of opponents and gives us an opportunity to work on strategies that will best benefit our players,” explained Wong. He himself has fond memories of his college coach and his own experience, “I think about my coach in college, and he still competes nationally and we have continued to connect at various national tournaments.” Wong will also surely become the same mentor to his own players at Vassar.
Wong will be bringing not only experience to the competition, but also a mindset of continuous improvement. He has a good grasp of the mental aspect of the game, and often times in sports, mental excellence is just as important as physical excellence. “I think that understanding the game more and more has made me become a better player. I have coached so many different types of players and I have always been the type of person to dissect other people’s games. I also have embraced my strengths and weaknesses and have worked hard to improve my weaknesses,” he said.
Wong and his team will meet their fair share of tough opponents in this tournament. The U.S. will be one of 21 countries participating in the Italia Cup. According to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) website, the structure of the tournament sees nations compete against each other in their age category on a round robin basis, followed by a knock out stage to decide the winners and final positions.
Nations can nominate teams of up to four players, and each tie consists of a best-of-three rubbers format with two singles and a doubles. The ITF Young Seniors World Team Championships is the highest ranked event on the ITF Seniors Circuit for male and female players in the age categories of 35-45. The ITF Young Seniors World Championships took place for the first time in 2015. Until this date, they had been catered for within the Seniors Championships. The U.S. has yet to win the cup since the start of the program, but it is likely Wong will prove a pivotal addition to the team’s success this year.
Wong has seen college athletics from all perspectives and as one of Vassar’s many experienced coaches, he has some advice for student athletes: enjoy the experience while it lasts. He said, “I think that current student-athletes should appreciate and enjoy the opportunity to compete for their school. I look back and wish that I had appreciated that opportunity more. For tennis players specifically though, tennis truly is a life sport and you should take the time in college as a beginning to other tennis opportunities for after college. I am one of the extreme people who has made tennis my life, but tennis has so many different opportunities for players of all ages and ability levels.”