In March, Søren Hess-Olesen became the first Texas Longhorn to ascend to No. 1 in the ITA rankings in 20 years, but he doesn't credit that climb to a better backhand or a slicing serve.
"Everybody can hit and practice and play physically," Hess-Olesen said. "Success in tennis, I think, is about how you handle your emotions."
Last year as a junior, Hess-Olesen became UT's first NCAA singles championship semifinalist in 21 years, falling to eventual champion Marcos Giron of UCLA. Hess-Olesen was awarded ITA All-America honors in singles and doubles, while also being honored as the Big 12 Player of the Year after claiming the league regular-season championship and touting an undefeated record at No. 1 singles in conference play.
Head coach Michael Center described Hess-Olesen's 2014 season as one of the best by a Longhorns player in recent memory. And indeed, it was a far leap from the freshman season that often left Hess-Olesen frustrated and wanting to throw his racquet.
"Losses haunted me," said Hess-Olesen, who will graduate in May with an economics degree.Working between the lines has never actually felt like work to Hess-Olesen, who earned his 100th career single victory earlier this year. He loves the feel of a racquet in his hand and pounding ball after ball over the net. Extra footwork practice and even conditioning drills are welcome parts of the daily schedule. After identifying the need to become more mentally focused, Hess-Olesen turned that same passion and work ethic toward training his mind.
Through his mental growth, he learned how to manage a tennis match. In his move up the ITA rankings, Hess-Olesen was able to channel his aggressive play even in tense moments, applying pressure and neutralizing his opponents.
"I'm not scared by losing," he said. "I just try to dictate play regardless."
Hess-Olesen is currently ranked fourth in the ITA singles rankings heading into the NCAA championship, which starts for Texas on Friday. The Longhorns start with Navy, and the winner of that match faces the winner of the California vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi first-round match.
Hess-Olesen was recognized last year as the ITA Texas Region Arthur Ashe, Jr. Sportsmanship & Leadership Award winner, which recognizes individuals who have exhibited outstanding qualities in scholastic, extracurricular and tennis endeavors.
"He's utilized all the resources to develop," Center said.
And that's just what Hess-Olesen intended for himself when he left his native Denmark to become a Texas Longhorn.
"One of the reasons I chose Texas is because, as a student-athlete, you have everything you need," Hess-Olesen said. "You have no excuses. I'll do everything I can do personally to get better."