The Havana, Cuba native is making waves in Florida tennis history, and maki...
University of Florida Team Page
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Looking at the UF men's tennis team, there are a few personalities that are hard to miss.
There's senior Elliott Orkin, the vocal team captain who plays both doubles and singles on Court 2 and who fans at Linder Stadium have supported through numerous long battles over the last four years. There's McClain Kessler, known by fans and teammates alike as the personality of the team, who can often be found yelling to the crowd from the fifth court, encouraging them to cheer louder.
Sometimes overlooked is the quiet leader of the group, Alfredo Perez. The Havana, Cuba native is in his second season with the Gators, and has already boasted an impressive 39-14 overall record.
Watching his matches, you won't see a lot of raw emotion in his game. Without looking at the score, you may not even know he's downright dominating his competition most of the time. You won't find him looking back at the crowd and raising his arms to warrant cheers, and you certainly won't hear his yell from across the stadium.
He's remained a top-10 player nationally in both singles and doubles (alongside partner Johannes Ingildsen) throughout the 2017 season. For someone with such a high standing in the world of college tennis, he rarely wants to talk about himself.
"Having the best team possible is a lot more important than just focusing on myself,'' Perez said.
And that is the beauty of dual tennis. Although it is up to every player to win on their respective court, it is still a collective effort.
"As a tennis player growing up, it's all about you,'' Perez said. "When you get to college it becomes about so much more than just you. You're a team now, so you have to care as much about you as you do for your teammates. You want to help them improve as much as possible."
Alfredo Perez (left) started his career as a part of the 2016 SEC Tournament Championship team.
Perez started his collegiate career as a part of a pretty impressive team, as the Gators won the SEC Tournament title and finished second in the conference with a 10-2 record. The team hosted the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, and eventually advanced to the quarterfinals – its best finish since 2005.
The SEC named him the 2016 Freshman of the Year, and head coach Bryan Shelton named him the team's Most Improved Player of the 2016 season. He became one of only 36 Gators in UF history to earn 20 dual-match singles wins in a season, and was the first to do so in five years.
Perez certainly hasn't slowed down since last year. When Florida's go-to player for the first singles position graduated, he was asked to step up to fill the spot. And he's done nothing but impress since the first day of the season. As a sophomore, he's taken down seven ranked singles players and is half of a top-5 doubles team in the nation that has taken down five ranked opponents this spring.
His battles on Court 1 can be exhausting to watch. He's had four singles matches go into three sets this season, and has seen 14 sets settled by a tiebreaker – yes, that's a lot—yet he manages to win those fights nearly every time. That kind of perseverance is a reason he holds one of the best win percentages on the team.
And although Florida will host its final dual matches of the 2017 regular season this weekend, Perez's vision for his team's future is as sharp as ever.
"I just want everyone to stay connected," he said. We've got a couple more matches left in the year, so we just need to stay focused and stay on the same page in order to play as a team. We need everyone to play to the best of their potential and I think great things will happen for us." 38479
When he signed with the Gators in 2015, Perez was rated the No. 2 tennis player in Florida and 15th in the nation in his class. He hasn't strayed far from that standing, as he's now the No. 9 collegiate tennis player in the nation.
Perez came to UF from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Before that, Miami. But even before that, he and his family lived 230 miles away from Miami in Havana, Cuba.
He has faced a familiar question many times in the years since. What is Cuba like?
"It's old," he laughs. "It's kind of like traveling back in time, everything is old and the culture is totally different than here."
It's obvious that Perez is a deeply family oriented person. When asked about what he misses most about the country, it's not a staple food, or a favorite destination, or some belonging he owned as a child.
"I miss my family in Cuba and the friends that I grew up with, I haven't seen them in a long time," he said.
So, you were close with them?
"I knew everyone in my neighborhood, that's just how Cuba is. You grew up with kids playing in front of your house all day, and you knew them all, they were your best friends. I miss that part of the culture the most for sure."
As a testament to his sentimentality, he knows that the 10-year anniversary of his family's move to the U.S. is coming up in less than 20 days from this interview.
Although moving to Miami from Havana took some getting used to, Perez and his family made it their home. He misses the city and the beach and how hectic life in southern Florida is, but when asked what he misses the most, it's the same answer.
"My family. I haven't seen them for a few months now. Being Spanish, when I go home I'm always with my family. Every weekend we have a big family reunion, I'll go to my uncle's house pretty much every day."
One thing anyone from a major city doesn't miss? The traffic.
"There's nothing like driving two hours down the highway for a 30-minute trip," he said.