Tennis Spotlight: Sophomore Siphos Montsi’s Goal to Become an All American

Siphos Montsi is from East London, South Africa. He is currently a Sophomore at the University of Illinois and aspires to go pro after college. In this interview I talk about his junior career, his recruiting process, training schedule, and some career goals. As always, stay tuned to the end of the interview for some inspiring words. If you want to follow along his results click here.

  1. When did you first start playing tennis? And when did you fall in love with the sport?

I first started playing when I was 9 years old, I played many other sports when I was younger. There was a program that was introduced to my school for 2nd and 3rd graders to play tennis. Once, I played it for the first time I fell in love with the sport but I was taking other sports seriously also. I had to hide my love for tennis because my dad wanted me to play soccer.

  1. What was it like growing up playing tennis in South Africa?

I grew up in East London, South Africa. Sports was my life, it took me away from a whole lot of bad things happening. I was always outside. Tennis kept me focused. When I started playing, I was seen as an underdog. I had to move out of East London because there was not a lot of competition. I played my first tournament when I was 10, and moved to Pretoria when I was 13. 

  1. Did your federation supply resources for you?

I had some resources. My brother and I got sponsorship through a company that was willing to support us financially to play tournaments. I was lucky. The federation contributed a little bit.

  1. Talk about travelling across Africa to play tournaments. What were some of the difficulties you faced? And what were some of the moments you loved when travelling?

Travelling around Africa was not that bad. I always had to travel with a few people to save costs. I had to start travelling alone once I got to a higher level, so that was tough. I would travel without a coach and parents. I would stay and eat as cheap as possible all while trying to play my best tennis.

  1. What has been your favorite country to travel to and play?

I love travelling, experiencing new cultures and people. To be able to see new places that I thought I would never see in my life is special. The Australian Open and Italy have been my favorite places to play in so far. They have friendly people and a lot of recognition. 

  1. When you played the Junior Australian Open, did that give you a sense of confidence?

It definitely did. Before that I always played with a chip on my shoulder. I was never supposed to be the guy to play a junior grand slam and get all of that recognition, so it was definitely a big confidence boost.

Credit: Illinois Athletics
  1. What made you commit to Illinois? Were any other schools interested in you?

I initially committed to Pepperdine, verbally. I decommitted because I did not think it was the right thing for me. The guys at Illinois are so close, and it’s like a family aspect. The history and tradition of tennis at Illinois is awesome too. I talked to Kevin Anderson a lot because he played at Illinois. He helped.

  1. What do you like best about the tennis program at Illinois?

The coaches are always there for you at any time of the day. They can develop players to play at the pro level. The focus to move on to the next level is crucial. 

  1. Describe your emotions when you clinched your first match?

It felt really good. It settled me down. There were alot of people that anticipated how I was going to play. So I was able to get that out of my head once I won. Doing it for the team was a special moment.

Credit: Illinois Athletics
  1. You achieved a career high singles ranking of 42 and team ranking of 34. What is your goal for next school year?

My goal for next season is to be an All American, which means a top 10 ranking. We want to get our team back to the top 10 also. 

  1. How did covid-19 affect you this school year? Where you able to start school on time? Or where you back in Africa? Are you going to have to stay on campus during christmas break?

I have been going back and forth from school to Florida. I played 4 or 5 tournaments this fall. We started school on time and I will be going home for Christmas in South Africa. Covid has definitely affected a lot of plans I had, but everyone is going through the same thing. 

  1. How would you describe the life of a college tennis player?

It’s tough. A lot of morning workouts, sometimes 5 or 6 AM to workout. Then you have to rush over to school and take classes, and then have practice in the afternoon and conditioning after. Then eat dinner and take night classes or study. There’s not that much time to socialize. You have to stay focused at all times, which is tough.

  1. What do you like to do for fun off the court?

I like to hangout with friends, listen to music, make music, and play table tennis.

  1. In 3 words, how has tennis influenced you?

Lifechanging, disciplined, grateful.

  1. Describe your biggest setback, and how did you recover from it?

My biggest setback was when I was 15 years old. I was thinking about quitting and playing another sport. I was not happy with how I was playing and did not know if I wanted to play tennis anymore. I decided to play for a few more months and things turned around. I had a knee injury around that time also. I was supposed to be out for a full year but came back in 5 months. 

  1. If you could give advice to one young player, what would you tell them?

Be stubborn about what you want to achieve. Always be confident no matter what people say.

  1. Who is one player that you look up to on tour?

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

  1. How would you describe your playing style?

An all court player that likes to use the court. I can grind or serve and volley.

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