Whether he is surrounded by sandy beaches and an ocean breeze, or brisk mountain air and miles of pine forests, Carlos Longhi Neto does not find solace in places. He finds it in people.
The Brazilian native found a home in Idaho, surrounded by friends from his childhood. However, his new family of fellow tennis players did not come about coincidentally.
Longhi Neto was first introduced to tennis at the age of eight. His father owned a car dealership for most of Longhi Neto’s childhood. Poor decisions and financial troubles drove his father away from the business. Ready for a fresh start, he became a tennis coach.
Longhi Neto took a liking to the sport, so his father coached him two to three hours a day.
His skill level took off like a rocket. His father taught him the value of a fast serve and a wicked forehand, which Longhi Neto took to heart.
“I’m not the fastest, but I hit the ball hard. That’s my game,” he said.
Within two years, he was playing in Brazilian tournaments. It was in these competitions that he found a life-long friend: Felipe Fonesca, another Idaho tennis player.
Longhi Neto swears he won that fateful first meeting, but said Fonseca would deny the fact tooth and nail. They continued to meet on the court for the rest of their high school days, playing each other over 15 times in the next few years.
Tennis became a staple in Longhi Neto’s life once he became a teenager. At 15 years old, Longhi Neto left the comfort of his family to compete at a higher level. With a 4-hour plane ride separating him and his parents, Longhi Neto found his independence.
“It’s good to have your parents close to you, but it’s also good to learn to live by yourself,” Longhi Neto said.
His skills resulted in opportunities to travel the world. He competed in tournaments in places like Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.
Despite seeing most of the world, Longhi Neto could not take his eyes off America. The possibility of a bright future in the U.S. was enough to convince him to attend an American university.
Scholarships made the difference in his decision, and he decided to attend Louisville over Oklahoma State.
However, a tennis career in the Atlantic Coast Conference proved to be too much of a burden for Longhi Neto.
“I had a lot of scholarships, so I had to play at one or two in the lineup,” he said.
The stress of trying to learn English, keep up in school and stay competitive in the ACC wore on Longhi Neto. That was when he heard from an old friend.
Fonseca told Longhi Neto about his time at Idaho, and the recent success of the team under head coach Abid Akbar.
“Felipe told me early on,” Akbar said. “I did a little research on Longhi Neto. I didn’t know how interested he was, but then I found out that he really wants to come, and so I was very excited. But it didn’t take very long to convince him. He was sold pretty quick.”
Akbar heeded Fonseca’s advice, and Longhi Neto joined the Vandals. His effect on the team was felt in no time.
“He brings a lot of fire. He has the ability to get the team going. He’s brought a bit of voice to the team,” Akbar said.
Longhi Neto backed up his talk by taking the fall season by storm. He earned one singles title and two doubles titles when paired up with junior Mark Kovacs.
“He’s got a big first serve and he’s got a good forehand, which is a very typical characteristic of solid, top players,” Akbar said. “He definitely has the capability to blow people off the court.”
The powerful play comes at a cost. Akbar said that while Longhi Neto hits harder than almost anyone, his speed still needs work.
“He’s got the biggest legs I’ve seen in a tennis player. He’s got tree trunks for legs,” Akbar said.
To improve this, Akbar has been putting Longhi Neto through a series of drills to help increase his speed. He said getting a quick first step is crucial if Longhi Neto wants to play at the top of the lineup.
“I’ve seen improvement, but it takes time,” Akbar said.
When it comes to practice, Akbar appreciates the friendship between Longhi Neto and Fonseca.
Along with Lucas Coutinho and Guilherme Scarpelli, fellow Brazil natives, Longhi Neto said he has found a home away from home.
Still, the bond Longhi Neto and Fonseca share seems to stand out. Their dynamic benefits not only themselves, but the entire team.
“Those two are very competitive and very hard working guys,” Akbar said. “They fuel from each other. They feed off each other and it only makes them better.”
Brandon Hill can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill