A two-minute walk out his front door in Mexico City leads Santiago Sierra to his childhood tennis club, where he first fell in love with the sport. Sierra started playing soccer when he was five years old; then, one day, he decided to check out the tennis club right by his home. From then on tennis was the only thing on his mind.
“I grew up playing tennis in Mexico City and played there for about 10 years, where I was coached by the same person for all those 10 years,” Sierra said. “It was always fun playing tennis back home because there were lots of people playing tennis in Mexico. Tennis is actually a bigger sport back home.”
After leaving his hometown to come to the United States to compete for college, Sierra chose the University of Utah for two reasons — the competitiveness the Pac-12 offers and the academics.
“I decided to come to the University of Utah mainly because it is the perfect combination for me with an academic course,” Sierra said. “It is a Pac-12 school, so that was an attraction for me to come here to be able to play with all the other schools who are competing for that top spot in college tennis.”
Although joining the Pac-12 may have been one of the main reasons Sierra decided to go to the Utah tennis program, that aspect has also been challenging.
“The most challenging part about competing as a Ute is being a part of the Pac-12 because you have all these very prestigious, national champions teams competing against you,” Sierra said. “You see teams like Stanford, and they’re all very popular teams. California is probably the best state to play tennis in the United States, so that makes it a little bit more challenging, of course.”
During his sophomore year, he defeated No. 55 Boise State player Lewis Rosily in a tie breaker set, 6-4 2-6 6-4. Sierra also beat No. 61 BYU player John Pearce in another tie breaker, 4-6 7-6 6-3. He earned wins in several straight sets in singles against student athletes from New Mexico State, Montana, South Alabama, Montana State, Weber State, Northern Arizona, Nevada, Idaho State, Sacramento State, Hawaii and San Francisco.
Before each meet, Sierra goes through his regular routine of warmups with his teammates. With butterflies fluttering through his stomach full of nerves, he prepares himself for his day of competition.
“Once we start our warmup I am more business, and that is when I really start enjoying all the nerves and all the pressure before the match,” Sierra said. “I guess I use that pressure and nerves as fuel to get pumped up.”
Sierra is a junior studying exercise and sports sciences, and when he isn’t studying for exams he is usually out on the tennis court. He is dedicated, and he strives to be the best on the court whether it’s in practice or in an actual match. He has also experienced some long and trying matches where he was forced to find that will to win.
“You’re challenging yourself every day, and you’re out there by yourself, but at the same time you have teammates that are cheering for you and your overall score,” Sierra said. “At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you win or lose as an individual, what matters is the end result as a team.”
For the remainder of the season Sierra, like most of his teammates, has one goal on his mind: to reach the NCAA Championship.
“The goal for this season would be to do what I can do best and just help my team qualify for NCAA’s,” Sierra said. “We haven’t qualified for NCAA’s in awhile, so I guess as team captain, and as a player, it is just being there day-in and day-out and cheer for the guys. To give my 100 percent to achieve that goal.”
Once Sierra graduates in about a year he hopes to stay in school to earn a master’s degree. More importantly though, he hopes to continue being involved with tennis.
“I want to [be an] assistant coach a little bit somewhere in the United States so I can definitely stay close to tennis,” Sierra said.