Men's tennis new no. 1 brings DI experience

by Matt Couture / Beacon Staff • March 30, 2016

Courtesy of Antonio Ramirez
Courtesy of Antonio Ramirez

As a tot and a high schooler in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, Antonio Ramirez loved playing tennis. Now living in a city over 2,000 miles away from home, the sophomore journalism major’s fondness for the game may be one of the only things that hasn’t changed in his life.

Ramirez moved from one country to another. He learned English after primarily speaking Spanish in Venezuela. And in the past year, he has transitioned from Division I tennis in his freshman season at New Mexico State University to Division III play at Emerson College. 

In his first matches with the Lions, Ramirez has impressed the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference. He was named the singles player of the week on March 28, and he and doubles partner Daniel Okin were crowned the conference’s top doubles team of that week, too. 

Ramirez said he was predisposed to a future in the game—he said his older brother, five years his senior, started playing tennis around the age of three. By the time Ramirez was born, he said he had the opportunity to play at a club in Caracas that his parents had registered the family for, and grew up with a steady diet of serves and backhanded shots (which he considers his finest offering). 

As he became a stronger player, Ramirez said he was offered the chance to play tennis at New Mexico State, the same institution his brother had previously attended. He said even with his years of experience, playing Division I was an eye-opener.

“It was convenient, but the level was a little bit higher for me,” Ramirez said. “DI is a very good level, even for people that can play. I think I can play, and it was hard for me, so imagine.”

Ramirez said that while he left Caracas to come to America for his post-secondary education, the life in New Mexico didn’t suit him. Seeking both the college experience and the urban life he once knew, he decided to continue his journalism studies at Emerson.

“I’m a city guy. I just never got used to New Mexico. It wasn’t progress going from Caracas to New Mexico,” Ramirez said. “It was the opposite. It was like taking two steps back, so I wanted to take a step forward. I decided to go to a city that’s better than my old city, [and one that’s] also good academically.” 

Upon arriving on campus, Ramirez said he immediately noticed the stark contrast in Division I and Division III tennis.

“The difference of level is very, very high,” Ramirez said. “The [Division I] level is very high; some of them make it to the national team of their country, so it’s a very good level compared to DIII, which has to grow more. They need to raise more money, fundraise. I think the level is not bad, but it’s not even close.”

With the change in division, Ramirez said he sensed a change in the personal pressure he applies to himself. By recognizing that he’s playing in a competitive, but not high-stakes, nationally prominent environment, Ramirez said he’s allowed the game to come to him this season.

“Since I stopped playing for some months before we started training here, I said, ‘You know, tennis is not a pressure game anymore for me. I’m just going to play relaxed.’ That has helped me a lot in my game,” Ramirez said. 

Ramirez plays under first-year head coach Dan Munsey, who was hired this winter to lead both the men’s and women’s teams. Munsey said Ramirez, who has settled in as the top singles option, exudes a belief in himself and his game.

“He’s a pretty focused kid on the court. I see somebody that’s playing with a lot of confidence and not a lot of pressure,” Munsey said. “Tennis is a very mental game, and it’s very individual when you’re on the court. When you have that pressure that you put on yourself, sometimes you end up fighting yourself. Antonio looks like somebody, right now, that is focused, determined, confident, and playing very loose.”

Teammate Josh Freud said Ramirez’s attitude and aptitude for tennis have helped the entire roster in both individual and group success.

“He comes into each match thinking he’s going to win, so that always helps,” Freud, a junior marketing communication major, said. “When you play or practice with players that are better than you, you tend to just get better, because you basically hit up to their level. [It] sets a higher bar for expectations.”

Off the court, Ramirez puts his bilingualism to use, broadcasting sports and weather on Noticiero WEBN, the on-campus network’s Spanish news program. Ramirez said he expects to anchor the show shortly, and he’s gained some rapport with classmates of a familiar cultural background.

Having now spent a considerable amount of time in Boston, the 19-year-old said he’s still learning the streets, shops, and train stops. But he said he’s having a decidedly better time back in a bustling metropolis. 

“This is a big cultural city we have right here,” Ramirez said. “I like going to sports events—Celtics, Red Sox, I try to go to hockey, too. I like eating at restaurants, going to Quincy Market, exploring the city. I’m new, so I’m trying to explore it.”

Ramirez and Emerson’s men’s tennis roster will return to the court tomorrow, hosting Salve Regina University at 3:30 p.m. in Winchester.