| March 22, 2018

Mens Tennis: Traversing changes

October 23, 2017

Lucas Coutinho has come a long way. The junior on Idaho’s tennis squad said he had to be individually accountable in his young life, traversing diverse environments before ending up in Moscow.

At Idaho, Coutinho found a haven where he can continue to do what he loves with people who have provided a community, all the while working toward a degree in civil engineering.

Coutinho said since he left his home-nation of Brazil at age 18, he has had to bear his challenges on his back.

“Right now it all depends on what I do,” Coutinho said. “Everything I choose is on me, and any mistakes are completely my fault. My parents did all they could for me, now I have to shine.”

Coutinho was born and raised for 17 years of his life in Recife, the ninth most populous city in Brazil. Although the majority of his time is now spent on the tennis courts, Coutinho said he used to enjoy time on the pitch.

“I kept playing soccer and tennis up until I was about 12,” Coutinho said. “I only had to stop to focus on tennis. I was playing in a lot of tournaments.”

Coutinho said he continues to adore the sport of soccer, and one can often find him watching a match whenever there’s an opportunity. His overall favorite sports team is Santa Cruz Futbol Club, a Campeonato Brasileiro Série B, or second-level Brazilian soccer team based in Recife. Coutinho said, as a child, he spent many hours at Estádio do Arruda, the team’s stadium, and continues to religiously attend matches when he returns home to visit family.

Coutinho’s father, Helinho, played tennis recreationally throughout his life and was largely responsible for introducing him to the sport. As a young adult, Coutinho met trainers at nearby tennis clubs his father was familiar with. After taking some lessons, he said he discovered a new passion.

Up until age 15, Coutinho was playing in local and national tournaments, often competing individually. He said the majority of the tournaments he played in 2014 and 2015 were nation-wide invitationals, crucial to players who strive for success in the sport.

“A couple of years before I came here, I was playing in national tournaments,” Coutinho said. “Anyone who wants to make a name in tennis had to play in those.”

After working his way up to the top of the “must watch” list of young tennis players in Recife, Coutinho said his club coach invited him to improve on his game by moving away from his family to the city of Curitiba, a metropolis of about 3.4 million people.

Coutinho had to switch scenery after 17 years in Recife and finish out his final year of high school almost 2,000 miles south of his hometown. It was in Curitiba, however, that Coutinho would come in close contact with current teammate Felipe Fonseca, a native of the city. The two partnered up in training, and this helped lead to his recruitment to Idaho.

At this point, Coutinho had built his reputation by himself, with some help from his coaches, but there was one more step to take before coming to Moscow, where he had been invited by former head coach Jeff Beaman and current head coach Abid Akbar. In the summer prior to his collegiate start, Coutinho said he went to southern France to compete in tournaments around the city of Nice and near the Italian border. Coutinho said he could have decided to continue competing individually in tournaments, perhaps leading to a career, but thanks to advice from old acquaintances, he realized college was the safer choice.

“When I was about 15, I saw some older people I knew going off to college and they told me it was nice and a good opportunity to do something more with your life,” Coutinho said. “It’s a safe way to continue playing tennis while also getting an education.”

Becoming a professional like one of his idols, Brazilian-born star Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten, is arduous and independent work. Tennis players must start from low-end tournaments, eventually working their way up to more prestigious invitationals, all of which must be self-financed. One must consistently score points at every tournament, and eventually, given the player has the money to pay for international flights and tournament entries, they may find themselves with some sponsors.

Coutinho said the expenses and individual process is a deterrent in focusing only on tennis. His current goal is to play out his passion and eventually become an engineer, although he said he would not mind to coach at some point.

Coutinho’s path began in the large Brazilian cities of Recife and Curitiba, continued to sprawling Europe, and ended up in the small community of Moscow, featuring just a fraction of the population he was accustomed to.

Moscow originally came as a culture-shock and Coutinho said it was difficult to make friends with a language barrier, but he now feels more comfortable.

“I felt kind of awkward in the beginning, it was hard to make friends,” Coutinho said. “I could understand people, but my English wasn’t perfect at first, but it’s developed since then.”

Coutinho has become more comfortable in a town about 6,200 miles away from his home, and he said it is partly due to the team which has provided a tight-knit community for him. Coutinho is one of four Brazilians on the roster, and he said this helps with both team chemistry and comfortability.

“We’re pretty close. We didn’t have any seniors on the team last year so we’re largely the same,” Coutinho said. “We all try to speak English when we’re around others, but it’s nice to have people around who are from the same country.”

With a change in atmosphere comes a change in lifestyle for Coutinho, particularly his style on the court. Growing up, Coutinho said he was always a singles player, an identity he has now partly foregone. He said he has seen better results and shot up the lineup when partnered with friend, roommate and teammate, Esteban Santibanez.

Santibanez said Coutinho makes a good roommate, as he is organized, helpful and committed.

“He’s a funny guy, I like being roommates with him,” Santibanez said “He’s smart, generous and when I ask favors from him, he’ll do it without complaining.”

Santibanez said that, on and off the court, the two often support each other, and Coutinho is one player whom everyone knows they can rely on. Although Santibanez said Coutinho may not always embody the position as a leader of the team, his presence definitely helps it.

Coutinho still has the remainder of this season and the next to improve upon his game and perhaps advance further in the NCAA tennis tournament at the end of the season in the spring. Coutinho helped lead the Vandals to a conference championship last season, and with close community, instructing and a perfected forehand attack, Coutinho said he believes they can do it again.

Until then, Coutinho can be found conditioning, practicing his aggressive serves or helping to mentor freshmen like he was when he arrived on campus just over two years ago.

Colton Clark can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @coltonclark95

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