Borja Miralles (left) and Alvaro Huete Vadillo (right) joined the men’s tennis team after starting their playing careers in Spain. Photo by Jada Gangazha.
ALISON MICCOLIS | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF | firstname.lastname@example.org
Tennis is often described as one of the loneliest and most mentally challenging sports. When a player is on court, they are alone — forced to navigate the highs and lows of the match on their own. If they are having a bad day, there is no one to sub. If they get mad at a call, they do not have teammates to calm them down. And if they have the biggest win of their career, they take in that moment alone, often falling to their knees and waving to their loved ones in the crowd.
However, for fifth-year men’s tennis players Alvaro Huete Vadillo and Borja Miralles, Butler has provided them a space to grow as players, mature as people and appreciate the camaraderie that comes with playing tennis on a team.
Both Huete Vadillo and Miralles are from Spain, which is where their tennis journeys began and where they first met.
Huete Vadillo first held a racket when he was 5 years old. A curious kid, his teacher recommended his parents enroll him in an activity in order to focus his energy. Neither of his parents had played a sport, but they had him try both soccer and tennis. Over time, Huete Vadillo fell in love with tennis and worked countless hours to reach a high level of play.
Miralles was introduced to the sport when he was 3 years old, although he did not really start practicing until he was 6. He, too, tried soccer but decided after a few years that tennis was the sport for him.
As junior players in Spain, Huete Vadillo and Miralles competed in tournaments together, where both often made it to the final rounds. After competing at a high level in Spain for many years, both players had to make a decision about the future of their tennis careers. Had they stayed in Spain, their options would have been to try and go pro or to quit tennis and pursue further education. Huete Vadillo and Miralles wanted to do both, so they looked into playing at a college in the United States.
“I remember from my class, I think I was the highest-ranking recruit in Spain,” Huete Vadillo said. “Nobody on top of me came to the U.S. from my age. I remember my coaches telling me, ‘Man, what are you doing? Why are you going to college? You’re just throwing your tennis career.’ … I understand … [but] here I have more stuff. I have a life outside of tennis.”
The ability to play at a high level and create an identity outside of tennis was important for both Huete Vadillo and Miralles. Both had dedicated the majority of their life to the sport and were looking for a way to continue playing while also exploring other opportunities.
Butler started recruiting Huete Vadillo in 2018. The men’s tennis head coach at the time, Daniel Pollock, had seen him play in a few tournaments in Spain and knew he would be a big-time recruit. For Huete Vadillo, the combination of trust in the team, a strong business school and guaranteed playing time led him to commit to Butler.
“I feel like Dan really trusted me, and being 5,000 miles from home, I felt like I needed somebody who I could trust,” Huete Vadillo said. “Also a huge thing: I wanted to play. I knew that, probably, if I’d taken another school or a bigger school, maybe your freshman and sophomore year you aren’t playing as much … And I wanted to play … I really hate sitting down and not being able to play.”
Miralles’s journey to Butler was a little different. He practiced for a year in the U.S. before committing to play at Purdue Northwest. After playing there for one season, he decided to move home to Spain — seemingly ending his college career.
“I wasn’t really happy in my other school,” Miralles said. “I had two very competitive years before, and I really wanted to take that into college, and I feel like I couldn’t at my other school. So I decided to quit college.”
That is until he got a call from current head coach Sam Miles.
“It’s good to have some personal insight whenever you’re recruiting someone, and Alvaro knew Borja from Spain … and Alvaro had really great things to say about Borja, so I kind of hopped on the phone with him fairly quickly,” Miles said.
Miralles was impressed with the school and saw a lot of potential, but if it was not for a call from his friend and former competitor, he might not have pursued the opportunity.
“I feel like if it wasn’t for Alvaro, I probably would not have come back to any college in the U.S.,” Miralles said. “I was so convinced — I quit; I’m going to play professional tennis. I had everything set up … [but] I knew Alvaro, and then through Alvaro, I had met others on the team, and I really felt like it was already my family. I wasn’t at school, but I already felt like it was my family.”
Miralles’s decision to move back to the U.S. and play at Butler changed not only the trajectory of his playing experience but that of Huete Vadillo’s too.
“My experience completely changed from freshman year to sophomore year — that is when Borja came,” Huete Vadillo said. “I feel like I could be myself. Maybe I didn’t know English as well as I do now, but having Borja there my sophomore year actually helped me a lot to make friends and be more open. Having another Spanish guy, we are like brothers. It helps a lot … having somebody from your country. We cook together, and he’s like, ‘Let’s cook something from Spain.’ We [make] Spanish omelets; it’s like potatoes and eggs. It’s not very healthy, but once a month we cook it, and we have good moments.”
While having each other to lean on helped, the transition from playing individually in Spain to playing on a team in the United States proved challenging for both players.
For most of their careers, Huete Vadillo and Miralles played on clay courts. When they started playing in college, they had to play indoors on hard courts, where the ball moved much faster.
In addition to the physical change of the court, there was a mental change. Both players were used to playing for themselves — every win and every loss was their own. However, at Butler, they had to start playing for a team, where individual wins and losses factor into a cumulative team score.
“I think it’s something you have to practice as well,” Huete Vadillo said. “You practice your forehand, you practice your backhand, you have to practice being on a team … For example, in Spain, if someone was beating me in practice, I’d get so [mad], but here, if my partner is beating me, it’s good for us … At the end of the day, I’ve lost many matches when the team has won, and you don’t really care as much. There is stuff you should probably work on to win the next game, but it matters if the team wins or the team loses. That individual aspect of the sport is not as strong here.”
For Miralles, learning how to work for the team has helped him improve his individual game.
“It was really difficult for me to adjust to the team thing because you are used to playing [by] yourself, and you want to do the best,” Miralles said. “I think it was last year, I took all the pressure off myself and tried to work for the team instead, and that’s when I started really playing way better — when I started focusing less on myself and focusing on the team and playing for the team.”
While they do not know what their future professional or playing careers will look like, both Huete Vadillo and Miralles agree they are not done playing tennis. They will continue rooting for one another and the other players from their childhood who have now made a career out of tennis — including former world No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Carlos Alcaraz.
“Carlos was one of us as well,” Huete Vadillo said. “He was getting to the last few days [of the tournaments]. It’s crazy. I don’t even know how to describe it. I see one friend there on the TV. People are saying crazy things about him, and I’m like, “Yeah, he’s a normal guy.” He’s great for tennis in Spain. He was a machine back then. We already knew that he was going to be a good professional player. The guy is two years younger than us, but he was already competing with us and beating me, personally, the only time we played. It was a cool experience, and that’s something I am going to be proud of. I’ve shared so many memories with him, and that’s really cool.”
As they get ready to leave Butler, Huete Vadillo and Miralles are proud of the ways in which they have grown. From maturing in their mental game to navigating life in a new country and evolving as players, the teammates have relied on one another and those around them to get to where they are.
“I don’t want it to end, but sadly it’s going to end, and I’m taking coaches and teammates as friends for life, so I think that’s probably one of the better things about tennis,” Huete Vadillo said.
Photo by Jada Gangazha.