I got to know Hunter Reese and learn about his tennis story for today’s Tennis Spotlight. Hunter Reese is a phenomenal doubles player and world traveller. He won the NCAA doubles championship and was ranked #1 in NCAA doubles. While in college he faced some tough challenges but found a way to overcome them and continue to do what he loves while playing with meaning. Hunter has many off-court hobbies as well and talks about them in this fruitful interview. Read more to learn about his story and some wise words from a great guy. You can check out his ATP results here and If you want to follow along his journey check out his Instagram here.
1. When did you fall in love with tennis? How did it all start and when did you get serious?
Growing up I played a ton of sports. Both my parents played recreationally, I would go out on the court and hit with them. I got serious when I was in high school. I always loved playing it, being competitive, and how it was just me I had to rely on. I wanted to play a sport in college. So as a freshman I decided to pick tennis over baseball. Once I gave up baseball I devoted myself to the sport and played much more. At 16, I started playing more national events and did well.
2. Do you believe in specializing in 1 sport, or playing multiple sports?
I believe in playing many sports as a kid. You develop a lot of athletic skills playing multiple sports and have a less chance of getting burnt out. No kid should have to play only sport at such a young age.
3. What made you commit to playing at Tennessee?
Tennessee did a really good job recruiting me. The coaches continuously checked up on me and called me every week even if I did not have a tournament. They made me feel like I was part of the team before I even stepped foot on campus. They made me feel like I was wanted and this was before I had really good results at clay courts and Kalamazoo over the summer going into my senior year. I liked the campus and the guys on the team as well. Not to mention, Tennessee was a great place to play before going pro.
4. Can you describe your toughest moment of your college career?
I am not sure what the toughest moment was but on the court, I remember my first ever college match I lost 7-6 in the third set to Memphis in the deciding match. I was so emotionally destroyed from the Memphis match. Then a few weeks later I was in the same situation and ended up clinching the match against Ole Miss to go to National Indoors. It was cool to have drawn on the experience of being the last match without focusing on the result. I think a lot of players get put right back in the same situation and think about what happened last time and playing in a place of fear. I was so happy to be back in that moment again and to come through that, it felt so nice to feel the opposite of how I felt a few weeks prior. Off the court, I had a teammate pass away due to cancer and that was challenging for me. It was something that my teammates and I are in different stages of grappling. It made you feel your mortality, we were 20 and 21-year-old kids who thought we could run through a brick wall. It brings a reality of life, it ends at some point.
5. Would you recommend taking the college route when going pro?
In almost 100% of cases, I would say play college. It’s freaking expensive out here unless you have funding from somebody privately or your Federation and or contracts with some companies that are going to take care of you for the first five years. I mean you got to look at the number of players making money in this sport that are under the age of 22. Let’s say if you turn pro at 17 you better be damn good because the futures lifestyle is not the lifestyle you want to have for 5 years. so yeah I would say that until you have a proven track record of playing a full calendar year of a professional schedule, go to college. physically mentally emotionally you’re just not ready. I do not think a 17-year-old is not ready to live this life. There are exceptions but I believe the vast majority should go to college. College coaches will always welcome their players back to train at their facility. There are little things like that, that many players do not think of. More players are seeing college tennis as a viable route now.
6. What did you enjoy most about college tennis?
The team aspect. You do not know what it is like until you actually experience it, and then when you leave college you are back on your own again. Then you miss it. I was lucky and had such a good group of guys around me and we maintained a good friendship after college and we get together a few times a year. For me, I met some people that have changed my life and it would not have happened without the team.
7. You were ranked number 1 in the country in doubles and won the ITA All-American Championships as well as the NCAA doubles championships. How much confidence did that give you when you started your professional doubles career?
It gave me a lot of confidence. I felt like the level I came out of college at was pretty much the ATP level. I won a challenger when I was in college so I knew I could win at that level. I played the US open my senior year of college against Llodra/Mahut and I saw a difference. I knew they were better than me but I knew I could get there. I felt like I had a certain level that my ranking just had to catch up to.
8. What was going through your head when you walked on the court at the US Open for the first time?
I had the biggest smile on my face, I was being ushered out and I was trying to act like I was there but I couldn’t help it. I was grinning ear to ear, it was the culmination of everything I had worked for. I had some butterflies and nerves for the first few points. I remember we lost the first 2 points, but the 3rd point I had the overhead I smashed off the court and it was so calming. It felt like just another match after that.
9. What has been your favorite tournament to play in outside of the U.S?
In Kaohsiung, Taiwan, we played in this big colosseum indoors and the center court had hawkeye. They had a big crowd turnout which was special. Asia in general they treat all the players well and the players professionally. Split, Croatia was beautiful and the location was unbelievable. Every day I would jump off the dock into the Mediterranian. We were on a mountain but could see the ocean and islands in the distance.
10. Do you have any scary travel stories?
I have only missed one flight, but have lost luggage in many countries. I played in Kazakhstan and took an hour taxi ride from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan and walked across the border. Which was completely different and took a 5.5-hour taxi to the city where the tournament was. I just got into an unmarked taxi for over 5 hours, it could have gone badly. He did not even speak English. The nice thing was it only cost me $40 for a 5-hour taxi. I had to take another 5-hour taxi back to the capital city to fly out. I also spent a month in Nigeria. We had armed military escorts everywhere we went, to and from the courts to the hotel. It was at the time when the most dangerous terrorist group was active there. It was a crazy experience. I like to think I do a good job of not getting in scary situations.
11. How has your toughest challenge on tour been similar to your toughest college tennis challenge?
I would say yes and no. I think after some tough losses it somewhat gets that same feeling of that first match loss of my college career. Professionally, now that this is my job and my career there is more on the line. In some of the tough moments you question if you should give it up, self-doubt occurs and I would have never experienced that in college. Some of the tougher times on tour are pretty unique because there is more riding on it and it is just me making any decisions.
12. Can you talk about why it is so hard to stick with one doubles partner? When do you see yourself playing with one guy?
I think there are benefits to playing with just one partner. I think it is tough to just play with one guy at the moment. Sometimes singles schedules take my partner’s places where I do not want to play. Also, this year has been so weird with covid, I just wanted to play and go with it. Hopefully this offseason I can set something up for next year. I do enjoy meeting a lot of people though. To have success long term, it is beneficial to have one partner. The system makes it tough to play with one guy, the system makes it so teams have to split up so both players can get into the tournament. There are so many reasons why it is tough to stick with one partner on tour (no qualifying, singles ranking can get in, and small draws in doubles).
13. Have you noticed any changes in your performance since becoming vegan?
I became vegan in January 2019. I noticed a difference in my energy level and am more conscious of things I am putting into my body since becoming vegan. I was never a morning person and now I can wake up much easier. So I would say there has been an indirect benefit to my performance.
14. Can you talk about your school bus conversion hobby?
I wanted to originally turn a sprinter van into a home but it was so expensive so I bought a 1995 Thomas Vista school bus and am converting it into a house on wheels. It will be a fun method of transportation for traveling the country. Once tennis is over I can see myself traveling and living in it for a few years. I love hiking and being outdoors. My goal for this off-season is to get the electrical and plumbing all set up. It is a fun process but is tough.
15. I know 2020 has been rough due to Covid-19, but what are some positive takeaways for you?
I think it is so easy to look at this year and focus on all of the bad things. I am so thankful for the time it gave me to stop everything and reflect on what I wanted, liked and did not like without having to go through the motions of life this year. I love to travel, it is one of my favorite and least favorite things about being on tour. I also get homesick. Basically in March, I stopped and was in Tennessee for 6 months. It was the longest I have been in one place since college, it was a real eye-opener. I was so full of gratitude to be able to spend time with family and friends. It has been a period full of growth.
16. What are your goals for 2021?
I believe in setting goals, but I am trying not to set a time limit on them. Ranking goals are tough because you can have a great year and not reach your goal. To be ranked top 100 is a milestone for 2021. I think my level is beyond the top 100 so I do not see it as a goal, more of a milestone. My goal is to be in the top 50, whenever that will be. All I can do is work hard and focus on the process and less on the result.
17. If you could give one piece of advice to a player trying to improve at doubles. What would you tell them?
It would be extremely individualized to the player, but when I watch college doubles, I see a lot of college players need to learn how to volley off the side of the court. So many college doubles players think they need to stick the volley through the baseline. The best players in the court use the side of the court. Anything that is above the net and shoulder high needs to leave the side of the court. It usually will cut the doubles alley before the service line. A lot of college players want to stick everything or hit an angled drop volley. If you watch any high-level doubles that’s how points are won.
18. How has tennis influenced you in 3 words?
Perspective, gratitude, and competitiveness