URBANA, Ill. -- The difficult part about being identical twins is that the two are always seen as a pair, a unit, almost as the same person.

Danish twins Esben and Søren Hess-Olesen share a mutual love for tennis, but knew that they wanted to go to separate schools for college so they could have their own identities.

“When we started looking at colleges, we decided from the beginning that we didn’t want to go to the same places. Back home, we were always ‘the twins’ and we wanted to see how we could develop if we went different places,” Søren said.

Esben, a sophomore at UNC, and Søren, a sophomore at Texas, agreed that going to different schools was the perfect solution for developing as individuals.

“[People] tried to recruit us both and didn’t understand why we didn’t want to go to the same school,” Esben said.

“I think we wanted our own place,” Søren said. “I wanted Texas to be my place and for Chapel Hill to be his place.”

Esben and Søren didn’t always play competitive tennis, or even think about coming to school in the United States. When they were five, the brothers started playing competitive soccer and fell in love with the sport.

After picking up recreational tennis for fun when they were on vacation with their family (their father and older brother both played competitively), Esben and Søren juggled both sports until they were teenagers.

“[When] we were 14, we realized we were doing better in tennis and we started to become some of the best in the country for our age,” Esben said. “Until then, we were practicing soccer and tennis every single day, so it was kind of a busy life. Then we realized we were going to have to make a decision on what we wanted to do.”

It was both the team and individual aspects of college tennis that caused the brothers to pursue the sport further and drop soccer.

Even though they go to school hundreds of miles away from each other, Søren and Esben still face off on the courts.

Their freshman year, Texas traveled to UNC and they battled across the net in a doubles match, the first time they had faced each other competitively.

”We are always used to cheering for each other and [when we played] I got mad at him for being too pumped up and was like, ‘How can you do that to me?’” Esben said.

“We actually played each other in singles earlier in the season. UNC came to Austin; it was way worse playing each other [alone],” Søren said.

The feeling of dread nursed the conflicting interests that Esben and Søren experienced when competing against each other.

“Usually we cheer for each other and are very competitive when we practice with each other, but as soon as he plays the match, I want to the best for him all the time. If I’m up 5-0, I don’t want to beat him too bad. I am excited to win, but sad for him to lose,” Esban said.

Both brothers are the No. 1 singles players for their respective schools and both earned a bid to the 2013 NCAA individual tournament.

Esben fell in the first round 7-6(7), 6-3 to Jonas Lutjen of Ole Miss, while Søren lost to UVa’s Jarmere Jenkins 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.

Despite the losses, the brothers are grateful to be in the U.S. playing and receiving an education.

“Danish tennis is not that big…we made it as far as we could. When you finish high school in Denmark, you either go pro or quit playing tennis and go to college,” Søren said.

Esben agreed. “If you think you can’t go pro right away, playing in college is the perfect way to see [if you can go pro]. In order [for us] to take the right steps, we had to go to college in the States.”