For our 25th interview, I had the opportunity to talk with University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Senior Ben Sigouin. Ben started playing tennis at a young age growing up in Canada. He had quite a successful junior tennis career and got to team up with some current ATP stars. Like many seniors this year, he will be deciding between playing a 5th year of college tennis next year or going on tour. The UNC star said that he is waiting for the right time to go pro. UNC won the National Indoor tournament this fall and has their eyes set on winning the NCAA tournament this spring. You can learn more about life as a junior ITF, college, and professional player and the challenges and memorable moments that you can experience.
- At what age did you pick up a racquet? And when did you fall in love with the sport?
I fell in love with the sport from an early age. My dad introduced my sister and I to the sport and taught us at a local park when I was 5.
- Did you train at the national center? Did that allow you to travel a lot for Junior ITF tournaments?
At first, I trained at a club in Vancouver and when I was 12 or 13 there was a provincial program that I trained with. When I was 15, I moved and trained at the national center with Aliassime and my teammate Josh Peck. The national center-supported me a lot financially. They helped me get to the top tournaments in the world.
- Can you explain the emotions you had when winning the JR Davis Cup for your country?
It was special. I cannot believe how long ago that was. We had an unreal team consisting of Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger Alliassime, and I. It was emotional because it was the first time we ever won. I still remember the experience to this day. I was able to play a good amount during the group stages. We got to spend a lot of time together. We got super close. I also got to the finals of the U.S Open Jr Doubles with Felix.
- You’ve got to experience playing the JR Grand Slams, Do you feel like that prepared you the most for college? Or would you say your ITF/challenger experience did more?
All of the experiences I had in Juniors prepared me for college. The life I had at the national training center prepared me the most. We had long days at the national training center which was similar to a college training schedule.
- How hard of a decision was it for you to go the college tennis route?
It was a very tough decision for me. I made the decision very late. I visited schools in September 2017 and started school in January 2018. I visited Florida and North Carolina on recruiting visits. I had good exposure to agents and pro tournaments at that time. Pro tennis was right in front of me but my parents and I thought I was not ready physically and mentally.
- Why were you attracted to UNC and UF? What made you choose UNC?
At the French Open in 2017, I lost to Oliver Crawford who was going to Florida. Their assistant coach Tanner Stump was there so I got to know the coach a little bit and learned what college tennis was about. I knew a lot of guys going to Florida. I knew 3 guys from UNC as well. I had good friends on both teams and I knew both programs had great coaches. I knew it would have been tougher to make the transition without knowing anyone. UNC was recruiting me hard and in the end, I went there.
- What does it take to play high in the lineup as a freshman?
I was already prepared to play high in the lineup as far as the level of tennis goes. It is crazy to do that as a freshman because you do not think about how high up you are playing and how huge the matches are, You don’t realize it.
- Can you describe your emotions during your first practice at UNC?
You are a bit nervous because you want to make a good impression from the start. Coming in the spring semester is so much different too because we start the season right away and things are happening so fast. You get thrown right into the fire. You can ease your way into things when you come into the fall.
- Can you describe that moment when you clinched the match against Ohio State in the QF of NCAA’s?
That was a special moment and probably one of the best moments of my career at UNC. We were up 3-0 but down in every other spot. It was an emotional rollercoaster match. I was up and then down and then went up 3-0 in the third set. It was a 3-2 team score when I clinched and my teammate was at 5-5 in the third when I won. All of a sudden I went down 4-3 in the third set and then I found myself serving for the match at 5-4. I still have confidence from that match because I knew it took a lot out of me.
- Can you think of an aspect of your game that you have improved each year of college?
I think I have improved mentally and focused on that. I have continuously gotten stronger each year as well. In college, it is a huge part of the training. This year we are working on my returns.
- What is your goal for this season? Did winning indoor nationals give you a taste of winning NCAA’s?
We do not look at the goals every single day so that we do not get too caught up in them. We won indoor nationals this year so our goal is to win NCAA’s. We feel like we are ready for anything.
- What do you think has been the reason UNC has started 13-0?
I think that we just have a bunch of really good guys. We have faced a lot of adversity and are willing to play through a lot for the team.
- Do you plan to play a 5th year after this one?
I have no idea yet. I am glad to see more tournaments are coming back and Covid is slowly getting better. It just depends on what is going on with the calendar of the tournaments and I have always been saying I want to go pro at the right time. IF the tournament calendar is not looking good I will play a 5th year. I plan on waiting till the end of summer to make a decision.
- As a captain of the team, what is one thing that you like to preach to the team?
I just like to motivate the guys. I tell the team that every team is going to give us their all. They do not have much to lose when they play us and that we have to be ready for everyone.
- What has been your biggest challenge you have had to overcome in college?
I have had to overcome a few injuries. I had a bad shoulder injury last year. I went 8 months without really serving and in the fall I had a stress reaction in my pelvis. Covid of course did not help anyone.
- What would be a typical week when you have no matches? And one with matches?
A typical week looks like individual workouts on court twice a week for an hour, gym in the morning with our trainer 3 times a week, classes, team practices at 2:30 every weekday, and I try to see the trainer as often as possible. During match weeks we will have fewer workouts and see the trainer more.
- I noticed you have not played in a professional tournament since 2019. Do you plan to start playing again this summer?
Definitely. Last year all the tournaments got canceled and I had some injuries so I could not play any. This summer I plan to play a lot as well as some in the fall.
- You have 2 top 200 ATP wins and have beaten current top ATP players in juniors. Does that give you confidence that you can reach the top 200 and further?
Yeah of course. Every time I play a guy around 200 ATP I use it as a guide. Those wins show me that I can beat guys that are up there. I do not think the level from 150-500 ATP is far off from each other. I think the guys who are 150 have a good few weeks on the challenger level and that sets up their whole year.
- Do you have a ranking goal once you start competing on tour again?
I think a good goal to finish the 2021 year if I was playing full time would be top 400. I don’t like to have ranking goals though and see myself as more process-oriented.
- What have you learned about yourself through playing tennis?
There are a lot of ups and downs in the sport. Sometimes you do not want to play anymore. You have to do what is best for yourself. I think you always have to do what is in your best interest. Playing college tennis gives an individualistic sport a team atmosphere.
- Can you think of an embarrassing moment you have gone through in college?
When we go to airports we bring a speaker and place it under one of our teammates’ seats on the plane and then play funny noises. We are all super close, sometimes we just joke around a lot. It hasn’t happened to me but I have seen it happen. It is definitely embarrassing.