Diversity shows on the Ball State men’s tennis team

<p>Junior Nemanja Guzina, left, and freshman Thibault de Negri, right, in a doubles match against IU Southeast at Northwest YMCA in Muncie, Ind. Feb. 3. <strong>Eric Pritchett, DN</strong></p>

Junior Nemanja Guzina, left, and freshman Thibault de Negri, right, in a doubles match against IU Southeast at Northwest YMCA in Muncie, Ind. Feb. 3. Eric Pritchett, DN

Whether it’s 4,000 miles or 400 miles, three Ball State men’s tennis players didn’t hesitate to come play for the program.

Freshman Thibault De Negri came from Belgium to become a Cardinal, while junior brothers Marko and Nemanja Guzina came from Toronto.

During De Negri’s college search, the Ball State men’s tennis program immediately stuck out.

“The other schools that I got offers from were more small schools, like Wabash or Presbyterian,” De Negri said. “I liked the coach, and he’s got a lot of experience. I thought that was a good thing, and I also liked the guys on the team. They all seemed like cool guys.”

Prior to the move, De Negri played in tournaments in Belgium to help get recruited by colleges in the United States. While growing up in De Haan, Belgium, he was ranked 1,348 in the International Tennis Federation before he stepped foot in the United States.

Now in his first year of playing collegiate tennis, the freshman is still trying to adjust to playing with other tennis standouts.

“It’s weird for me just to play on a team,” De Negri said. “It’s just like a lot of pressure every time I play.”

While being over 4,000 miles from his family brings a feeling of homesickness more often than De Negri would like, his teammates have made the adjustment easier.

“I miss my family, but the guys on the team made me feel welcome from the beginning,” De Negri said. “I have made friends almost immediately, and as soon as you have the team, you’re constantly busy and not really thinking that much about home. Of course, you miss the simple things like your dog, your family and the food. It’s difficult, but you’re busy, and that keeps you going.”

Since the start of his collegiate tennis debut, the comfort he’s found and support he’s had have played a big role while seeking improvement. De Negri currently holds an overall record of 9-18 (1-3 MAC) in dual matches.

In Ball State’s match against Toledo on March 24, De Negri defeated his singles opponent in two sets, 6-1 and 6-4.

“He hasn’t played up to his potential,” Ball State head coach Bill Richards said. “He knows that, and it was great to see him put a match together from start to finish, and he needed that win. Even though he has been losing in the last couple of weeks, he has been playing better. That was really important for us and for him, to get a good, solid win and help us against Toledo.

Although an adjustment like De Negri’s can be tough, the other international players on the Ball State men’s tennis team have it figured out.

Marko and Nemanja are playing their third season with Ball State. Since their visit in February 2015, the brothers have never doubted their time here as a Cardinal. Nemanja knew right away that he belonged on the team.

“The team seemed fun, and the school’s atmosphere seemed pretty great, so it seemed like a good fit for me,” Nemanja said. “The other schools that I was talking to closely were Georgia State, Toledo and Wichita State.”

Up in Canada, the Guzina brothers combined for 11 victories in singles matches. Prior to Ball State, Marko and Nemanja played tennis for Ontario, where they grew on and off the court.

“It’s always an honor to be a part of the team,” Nemanja said. “You know, people you have always grown up with and are friends off the court but enemies on the court. You really learn some life lessons on and off the court when you train real hard in order to compete and do well in the national tournaments.”

When he was 18 years old, it was Ontario teammate Clark Wilson who sparked Marko and Nemanja’s drive to be a successful tennis player in the United States.

“Just wanting to win the Mid-American Conference Championship and to get to the NCAA Tournament,” Marko said. “To prove ourselves and compete against the best. Hopefully one day, to become the best.”

According to the United States Tennis Association, this trio of Ball State players is among 12-13 percent of collegiate men’s tennis players that come to play internationally.

Ball State redshirt junior Collin Rigney says players like Marko, Nemanja and De Negri are key to the team’s success.

“It has become almost the face of college tennis … international players,” Rigney said. “Especially that our number one, two and three guys in singles play are all international players. It’s extremely crucial to have them to perform day-in and day-out.”

Reflecting on his experience so far, De Negri said he would recommend it to any tennis player.

“It’s a huge experience and it’s good for your tennis game,” he said. “To build up social strengths and education, I think it’s just the best way to combine all of it in one package. It’s a package deal.”

The trio will continue to help Ball State men’s tennis play to the best of its ability this season. The team competes against Western Michigan on April 7.

Contact Patrick Murphy with comments at prmurphy2@bsu.edu or on Twitter @PMURPH505

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