ATLANTA—The Georgia State men’s tennis team will honor two of its finest student-athletes in program history in seniors Lucas Santa Ana and Victor Valente prior to hosting its regular-season finale on Saturday versus Troy at 1 p.m.
The Panthers will hold a brief Senior Day ceremony prior to the start of Saturday’s match at the Blackburn Tennis Center. It will be the final home match for Santa Ana and Valente who have combined to lead Georgia State men’s tennis into a new era since their arrival on campus in 2010. In the most-recent era of GSU men’s tennis (since the 2008 season), Valente leads all student-athletes with a career 75-28 record (.728) in singles and 57-28 mark in doubles. Santa Ana is second to Valente with a 63-23 (.733) career singles mark and a 53-17 doubles record.
The two set numerous program highs and firsts this season. Valente kicked off his landmark 2012-13 season by earning the runner-up at the ITA Southeast Regional Championships in October before becoming the first GSU men’s tennis player in school history to compete at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate.
He earned his first ITA National Singles ranking this season and also set the record with Santa Ana for the highest nationally-ranked doubles win in school history (No. 3-ranked Juan Spir/Vikram Hundal from Ga. Tech). Santa Ana and Valente are ranked No. 44 in the latest ITA National Doubles rankings.
The road to that ranking, and first enrolling at GSU, began in their native country of Brazil. While sports are part of the mainstream culture in the United States, there are no inter-scholastic or inter-collegiate sports in Brazil. Both Santa Ana and Valente are the exceptions as both have large families that are sports fanatics.
Santa Ana learned to play tennis at the age of 10 on a family vacation to Macaraípe. He and his uncle picked up a racquet and started playing, which prompted his competitive family members to also pick up tennis. Santa Ana, an avid soccer player as well, learned the game so fast he began taking lessons not long after. Valente, a native of the very urban Sao Paulo, began playing tennis at age three on his backyard patio. Sao Paulo is ranked by numerous sources as one of the Top 10 most populated and largest cities in the world and is easily the largest city in Brazil.
“We don’t have grass in our backyards like in Atlanta, so we put a bench in the middle of the concrete to act as the net and we started playing,” Valente said. “It was funny because I could not hold the racquet, so I had to hit two-handed on the forehand and backhand. I have a video of it, it’s so funny because I would go and run and hit the ball and fall. It was even a mini racquet, but we used a regular ball and not the soft ones kids here use so it was hard to hit back.”
Both cited the rise of fellow Brazilian Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten to world No. 1 in tennis in the year 2000 as reasons tennis boomed in Brazil. With the tennis boom became more of an opportunity to play. When approached by his father at the age of 13, Santa Ana chose to play tennis full time and soccer on the side.
“Before Guga a lot of people in Brazil thought that tennis was a sport only for the elites. Soccer was, and still is, the most popular sport. Then this Guga guy comes up with his messy hair and colorful clothes and starts winning Grand Slams, then everybody started playing tennis at that time,” Santa Ana said.
They both started playing tournaments and crossed paths a few times in Brazil. It led them to be noticed by former Georgia State head coach Chase Hodges who eventually offered both scholarships to enroll at GSU. Both arrived at Georgia State knowing very little English, but immediately became enamored with the sense of community in Atlanta. Santa Ana and Valente both volunteer at the Buckhead Church helping on Sunday and Monday mornings the past three years.
Academically, Santa Ana and Valente are two of the top student-athletes each year. Both have earned greater than a 3.5 GPA across their three-plus years of school. Valente majors in Information Systems and is looking to utilize his business sense with his passion for sports back in Brazil. Santa Ana, a journalism major, has wanted to pursue a career in sports journalism since was 16 years old. He knows the native language of Brazil, Portuguese, as well as English, Spanish and will earn his minor in Italian at Georgia State.
Valente and Santa Ana both agreed that time management has been the biggest key to their success in the classroom. “If we have a tournament one weekend, we know that we won’t have time to do work,” Valente said, “So we look to the future and we plan ahead. It is all about planning and time management.”
Their final home match will occur this Saturday in a Sun Belt Conference showdown vs. Troy.
“As a team and coaches we look forward to playing for our seniors and sending them out with a win on Saturday. We look forward to see them compete in front of the home fans one last time,” first-year head coach Joerg Barthel said. “We have to be ready and play against Troy well to put us in a good seeding position for the Sun Belt Championship next week. We want to send our seniors out right with a Sun Belt Conference championship next week, so we must keep competing and playing well like we have been the last couple of weeks to build momentum towards next weekend.”
The Senior Day ceremonies begin at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday just prior to the 1 p.m. match. Visit the men’s tennis page on GeorgiaStateSports.com for a full recap and a box score following the completion of the match.