By Noah Allison–
By the age of two he started playing tennis, by the age of four he was playing around Europe and competing in international tournaments; by the age of five, he had become the most vital member of the Louisville men’s tennis team. Maybe being born on Feb. 29th allows for a bit of truth bending, but what is true is that the leap year baby from Vienna, Austria, sophomore Sebastian Stiefelmeyer, is leading U of L’s talented tennis team towards a bright and successful future.
Last year, as a freshman, Stiefelmeyer had a total record of 26-11 in singles matches and a 17-7 record in doubles matches playing in positions 1, 2, and 3. This performance won him the Big East Freshman of the Year. He had flown across the ocean and stepped foot in America for the first time only a few days before his freshman semester begun.
“I cannot really say what my expectations were because I just really didn’t know what to expect at all,” Stiefelmeyer said. “Then I drove here from the airport and I saw the ginormous football stadium and U of L’s facilities, and I was just blown away; I thought it was so cool. Then I went to our first basketball game and people were going nuts and I just loved it. And at the beginning, I didn’t know anything about football, but now I really like the game and watching us play.”
Stiefelmeyer’s competitive drive and strife for excellence make him a quintessential Cardinal. Due to an injury, Stiefelmeyer had to miss a match early in the spring season. The team won the match and afterwards, in complement of the team’s performance and Stiefelmeyer, Head Coach Rex Ecarma had this to say:
“Playing without Sebastion Stiefelmeyer for our tennis team is like the football team playing without Teddy Bridgewater. This whole week, the team has banded together and said ‘we’ve got this,’ and they showed it today,” he said.
Stiefelmeyer, while young, understands his role of being one of the most important members on the team and accepts the responsibilities that come with it.
“Teddy Bridgewater, he carries the team on his back and winning and losing depends a lot on him,” Stiefelmeyer said, responding to Ecarma’s comparison. “It’s different in tennis, where winning and losing doesn’t depend only on me, but I think that I carry a lot of the responsibility of the team. I can motivate people. People look up to me so I try to lead them, not only by example, but also by encouraging them. I felt very honored by that statement, but hopefully he will still say that at the end of the season.”
U of L may not have its ace of a tennis player if it weren’t for Julia Stiefelmeyer, who decided to take up tennis lessons over 10 years ago. These lessons just so happened to be scheduled after her son Sebastian got out of school.
“She would always pick me up from school and I had to watch her lessons for an hour. Then I started by asking her if I could play the last 10 minutes,” Stiefelmeyer said. “Then from the 10 minutes, I got 20, then I got the whole hour. And over the years my love for tennis grew, and athletically I only focused on tennis.”
“I was around eight years old when I first hit a tennis ball. I played in my first tournaments when I was around ten, then I started to play internationally when I was 13 or 14 years old. I was playing in Europe in some close countries. Then when I was 16, I played some worldwide tournaments; I even flew to South America to play some tournaments there,” Stiefelmeyer said. “When I was 14 I was among the best European tennis players, then when I was 16, I won the Vienna Men’s Tournament. I was the youngest person to ever win it.”
Stiefelmeyer was the No. 1 rated player in his age group, and was among the best junior players in in the world. His versatility and dependability have made him an integral part of Louisville’s current and future success. But he is simply playing the game he loves and he enjoys the opportunity to learn from great coaches and improve his game.
“It’s outrageous how much I’ve improved my game since getting to U of L. I came here as a decent player, but after my freshman year I developed a lot, especially during the spring season,” Stiefelmeyer said. “I had a very good summer for my tennis development, and also my athletic development. I gained a lot of muscle and got much more physical. My coach back home said where Louisville coaching has helped me the most is my mental ability, because it has increased so much.”
Being able to play the top spot at either singles or doubles, Stiefelmeyer has become accustomed to both styles in the game of tennis.
“I like singles more, because in college tennis doubles goes very quick and it’s such a game of momentum. If you get down or have a bad start, then that can sometimes cost you the match. But in singles, if you lose the first set or get a bad start you can always bounce back. In singles it’s just you, your performance,” Stiefelmeyer said.
Stiefelmeyer also commented on what he perceives to be his greatest strengths.
“My strength is definitely my back hand and my athleticism. I’m quick on the court, but what I really have to work on is four-hand, especially to be able to kill some shots. With a backhand, I can kill it from anywhere, but I sometimes miss it with my forehand. And then your serve can never be good enough.”
Rex Ecarma has been head coach of the Louisville Cardinals for 23 years now, and what he has in his 23rd season is a young, talented team that may just have the depth and top end talent that it takes to accomplish something special.
“This season I think we are going to do great. We didn’t have a very good start but we are a very young team. We mostly just play sophomores and freshmen. And I know this for myself; it’s hard to come in as a freshman,” Ecarma said. “So, I’m not worried. It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. I’m looking forward to the end of the year for the big tournaments, the Big East, and then the NCAA’s afterwards.”
Photos courtesy of UofL Sports Information