Filip Vittek: from Slovakia to USD school records
The American Dream is more disputed than it should be.
Originating as a way to motivate and encourage colonists’ conquering of the continent, it soon morphed into a magnet attracting ambitious outsiders from all over the world.
Whether they crossed the Atlantic or the Pacific to get here, these immigrants’ focus on the promise of a better life pushed them through any obstacles they faced along the way.
In this era of proposed travel bans and tighter immigration laws, American-fueled aspirations have come under fire from both sides of the aisle.
In the ongoing debate of how to best protect the ideals on which this country was built, then, many of the individual stories end up lost among a sea of political buzzwords and partisan persuasions.
One of those national narratives is Filip Vittek, University of San Diego tennis star and new owner of the USD career record for men’s tennis doubles victories, with 78.
Vittek, a native of Slovakia, came to the United States in 2013 to pursue a college career on the tennis court after briefly trying his hand in the professional ranks.
“I tried to go [professional] after I graduated from high school, but after a half-year I realized just how tough it is in the pros and started looking for colleges around the U.S.,” Vittek said. “American schools offered an opportunity to combine education with sports, something you can’t really do in a lot of other countries.”
Being about as far as one can get from San Diego, however, the process of getting Vittek into the sunshine of Southern California was a little more unconventional than that of other athletes on campus.
“I was actually supposed to go to the University of Wisconsin and had taken an official visit there already,” Vittek said.
When that fell through, Vittek was forced to re-examine his options, which included researching USD online.
“Unfortunately, there was a mistake made in the school’s admissions office with my paperwork, meaning I had three or four weeks to find a new school,” Vittek said. “I looked up USD based on the tennis program and the school’s academics, and was able to learn more about the program through Facebook and social media. I knew a guy on the team then, and he was able to help put me in touch with the coach, too. We spoke on Skype, and pretty soon I had decided to come here.”
Vittek’s atypical path to Alcalá Park would soon be followed up by an even more extraordinary start to his college career upon arrival.
Adjusting to life in the States meant dealing with the intricacies of American society.
“One of the biggest shocks was how friendly people were here,” Vittek said. “[I didn’t know it was] to the point that random people would start talking to you when you were walking around.”
As a freshman, Vittek won all-conference honors and was named USD’s Male Torero Rookie of the Year.
Now 23, the senior credits this near-immediate breakout to the short-term exposure he received on the professional circuit.
“I had played tournaments and had experience there,” Vittek said. “That, combined with starting my freshman season as a 20-year-old, allowed me to have a lot of confidence early on.”
That success quickly translated into appearances in the NCAA Doubles Championships in each of the last two years, advancing as far as the Round of 16 last year in an experience that Vittek describes as nothing short of great.
“I loved being able to see where my skill level was and to compare it to the best players in the country and to see what to improve and what to work on,” Vittek said.
These victories set the stage for his culminating campaign this year and the top spot in the school record books that came with it.
“It’s actually an interesting story leading up to the record because I knew the results but not my record,” Vittek said. “I had no idea I was close to breaking the record until somebody told me. I had a few matches to go at that point, and worked hard in every practice and match leading up to the match against Washington that I actually broke the record in. It was a great feeling, knowing that all of my hard work had paid off.”
Unlike some of the other top athletes on campus, however, Vittek flies more under the radar than most. The lack of buzz, he said, forces him and his teammates to draw motivation from each other.
“We have nine guys on the team, and we motivate each other,” Vittek said. “There might be times when I come to the court and feel tired, but when I look at the other guys and know I have to work hard for them, it makes it a lot easier. More than anything, we’re motivated by winning because it’s such a great feeling.”
There has certainly been no shortage of winning for this American sports star from Slovakia.
His future, however, remains a bit uncertain.
“My visa sponsorship is through tennis,” Vittek said. “So my career will probably come through there as a player or instructor.”
The story of the senior who relaxes with video games and yoga away from the court is certainly one worth celebrating.
There are no ulterior motives with the Slovakian, only a drive to dominate and a clear appreciation of the good things that have come his way.
In a time when the mere existence of such an ideal can be threatened, Filip Vittek represents a worthy exception right here at USD.
More than anything, that is something deserving of on-your-feet applause from all corners of the globe.
Written by Noah Hilton, Asst. Sports Editor