Courtesy of Grant Thompson and ATPTour.com
Several players on the ATP Tour have gone the college route before turning pro. This fortnight, the Wimbledon main draw features 18 players with collegiate experience including John Isner, Ben Shelton, and Cameron Norrie.
American Eliot Spizzirri is hoping to become the latest collegiate star who also finds success at the next level, starting on the ATP Challenger Tour. The 21-year-old is set to make his Challenger Tour debut this week at the Cranbrook Tennis Classic in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he has earned a main-draw spot via the ATP/ITA Accelerator Programme.
Spizzirri has enjoyed a standout career at the University of Texas. He recently completed his junior year, finishing as No. 1 in the ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) rankings.
“I think most of the top college players want to go on and play pro tennis or at least give it a shot,” Spizzirri told ATPTour.com recently at the NCAA championships in Lake Nona, Florida. “So I think I’m ready to give it a try. I feel mentally ready. And we’ll see how it goes.
“You don’t know how ready you are until you get out there. And then you play these matches and get the opportunities and the experiences. So I’m super excited.”
Spizzirri was a quarter-finalist in the 2023 NCAA singles championships and finished runner-up in doubles alongside Cleeve Harper. The American credits his time in Austin as a big part of his development.
“I didn’t feel like I was physically and mentally ready to commit to playing a full pro schedule,” Spizzirri said. “I’m so grateful I chose Texas, they have all the resources you could possibly ever need to become a top professional tennis player. They’ve helped me develop my game, and just become a lot stronger physically and mentally. The coaching staff, the strength and conditioning staff, nutritionist, trainers, it’s all you could ever want as an athlete. It’s an unreal experience.”
Spizzirri grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut and trained at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows from ages 12 to 18. He holds fond memories in Flushing Meadows, where he has been able to practise with players such as Roger Federer and Andy Murray. In 2021, Spizzirri received a qualifying wild card to his home Slam and defeated Alejandro Tabilo in the opening round.
After coming off the emotional high of the US Open, Spizzirri was met with a challenge. Pain in his wrist caused by ‘overuse’ forced him to change his style of play for an entire season. He eventually opted for surgery.
“I got wrist surgery [in 2022] and played a whole season before getting surgery, only slicing backhands. That was last year,” Spizzirri said. “It was quite an experience to learn how to win points in different ways. It teaches you a lot about yourself. At the time, it’s so tough going through something like that, especially when you feel like you’re playing your best tennis.
“But my coaches always told me to look at it as a blessing like, ‘You get to work on your forehand, you get to create other weapons.’ I think it really helped me transform my game and worked on my volleys, my serve, transition game. I wouldn’t go back and change it. But It was really tough in the moment.”
A three-time ITA All-American, Spizzirri’s hard work has earned him six main-draw entries into select Challenger Tour events this year. The American is one of 21 players eligible for accelerator spots via their year-end ITA ranking or by reaching the quarter-finals of the NCAA singles championships.
“It’s such a great opportunity for us college guys,” Spizzirri said. “It definitely helps us out, especially given I’ve had injuries in the last year-and-a-half. So I haven’t been able to play as many pro tournaments.”