Four years ago, when CAS sophomore Christian Otero was attending Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami, he won two state titles. But that wasn’t enough.
“I was in Spain for the freshman year, so I thought I would be able to go for three, but then I wasn’t able to,” Otero said. “And then senior year, I wasn’t fully committed. So I feel like I could’ve gone for more, but I didn’t.”
Otero showcased his resiliency, toughness and commitment to improving as a player merely by training and competing in the disarming heat of Miami with a coach who might now be considered old-school.
“If we were cramping, we couldn’t stop,” Otero said. “I’ve had to go to the hospital twice for full body cramps, and he didn’t care.”
But Otero valued his coach’s intensity, saying it taught him how to push through the pain and focus on what’s important.
“He just wanted to win, win, win,” he continued. “And that’s what it’s all about. You go through that process to get into a college.”
All of this hard work paid off for Otero, giving him the opportunity to choose where he wanted to attend college. Otero was deciding between a Division I and Division III school, and decided to focus on academics because he didn’t plan on pursuing tennis professionally.
“My brother went to Penn State, and they were very heavy on fitness,” he said. “I figured tennis ruins your knees, it catches up to you at the end of the day, you know? And if you get injured once with tennis, you’re done. You can’t compete at such a high level if you have a bunch of knee surgeries or if you have a huge injury. So I felt like focusing on academics was the right thing.”
Otero has had a promising start to his career on NYU’s tennis team. Last season, he earned a 3-3 record in singles play and a 3-1 doubles record. In the team’s opening match of the 2019 season on Sept. 7, the CAS sophomore beat his singles opponent in the Lions Fall Kickoff Tournament in straight sets, before pairing up with CAS first-year Alex Yang to secure NYU’s only doubles victory. This past weekend, the winning momentum continued, as Otero defeated his singles opponents (6-0, 6-0) and (6-1, 7-5).
Head Coach Horace Choy described Otero’s game as “complete, but quiet,” and added that his “street-fighter mentality” is key to his success on the court.
“They can both hit good shots from difficult positions,” Choy said of Otero and Yang. “Even shots that get opponents to say ‘Where did that come from?’”
Yang believes a big part of their newfound success is due to their position on the court.
“The side you take is really important because that’s where you’re going to be returning your serves from, and returns are so important in doubles,” Yang said. “[Otero], he likes hitting big forehands, so his side is perfect for him. I like backhands on my returns.”
Watching his older brother’s experiences shaped Otero’s comprehensive perspective on life as an athlete and sparked his own desire to finish everything he starts.
“After I saw what my brother had to go through at Penn State, I knew I did not want to do the same thing, because he ended up getting burnt out and quitting the team, and I wanted to commit to something and finish it,” Otero said.
And in the future, Otero — who studies economics — hopes the lessons he’s learned in tennis will translate into off-court success.
“Being some sort of sports agent or handling athletes’ money is something I would love to do, because I’m invested into sports and I know a lot about sports,” he said. “I can relate to people who play sports because I know the grind and what they have to go through, and the exercise and time and work you have to put in.”
As for now, Otero and Yang appear to be a budding doubles team, switching between the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in the starting lineup, respectively
The next opportunity to see their electrifying play is in New London, Connecticut at the Connecticut College/USCGA Invitational on Sept. 21.
A version of this article appears in the Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, print edition. Email Griffin Vrabeck at [email protected]