User ID: Password:

April 7, 2009

Yoann Re's unique path to Tech has translated into an attention-grabbing season

By: Matt Kovatch

In a way, you can credit Canada’s love of hockey for the Virginia Tech men’s tennis team’s success this year.

One thing always leads to another, and when you look at it, life is essentially a bunch of seemingly random events that chain together to form a discernible path. It’s always interesting to go back in time step-by-step, figuring out how you got to where you are. It’s no different for Yoann Re.

Now, of course, the Hokies’ junior (whose name is pronounced YO-on RAY) is one of the best tennis players in the Atlantic Coast Conference, having started the dual match season 11-0 before ending the month of March with a 12-2 record and a national ranking of No. 59. But his route to that point has been an interesting one.

It all began a little over 20 years ago when his Italian father and French mother met, in of all places, Canada, near the city of Montreal. Not long thereafter, 3-year-old Yoann picked up a tennis racket for the first time.

“My father was a fan of tennis, but he discovered it pretty late so he couldn’t play it himself,” Re said. “So he wanted me to try it and to become as good as I could.”

Young Yoann picked up on the game rather quickly, and as he approached his teenage years, he felt that it was time for a change. You see, in hockey-crazed Montreal, where the Canadiens have won more Stanley Cups than any other NHL team, tennis wasn’t quite so popular among the area’s youth. And according to Re, unless you were one of the top few players in your age category, the Canadian tennis federation didn’t present a bevy of opportunities for you.

So partly because of that, and partly because he had relatives living in France at the time, 11-year-old Yoann packed up and moved across the Atlantic to live with them.

It was during his six years in France that Re really blossomed as a tennis player. The game was simply more prevalent, with more players at a higher level, more tournaments to take part in and more opportunities to develop.

“Tennis-wise, it was good over there because the federation helps a lot,” Re said. “And financially, it’s cheaper to play tennis over there. It’s just more popular.”

Although France’s role was paramount in Re’s tennis career, it wasn’t the permanent place for him. Socially, Quebec was where he wanted to be – he finds the people there a lot more open-minded and friendlier, so much so that he thinks that’s where he’ll return when his time at Tech is through. He had his fill of France, and at age 17, Re returned to his homeland in Canada.

But Re’s time overseas wound up helping his game in an indirect way – through academics. According to Re, the education system in France was a bit more advanced than in Canada, and by the time he returned as junior in high school, he already possessed the knowledge equivalent to that of a high school degree. Thus, he was able to take a year off from schooling, which allowed him to focus solely on tennis.

He spent six months training in the tennis hotbed of Naples, Fla., playing in some ITF (International Tennis Federation) tournaments and even qualifying for the U.S. Open in 2006. If France was where he planted the seeds of his game, Florida was where it finally came to fruition.

“Yoann was always good when he was young and he did well when he was in France, but it was the time in Naples when he really took off,” Virginia Tech head coach Jim Thompson said. “There is no doubt that it helped him a lot. He worked with some good coaches down there and had the opportunity to play a lot of tennis. It was at the end of that year when he really peaked.”

But the year-round tennis couldn’t last forever. Re has always been a good student and he had the desire to go to college. After all, he admits it was France’s accelerated high school system that allowed him to finish early and become a better tennis player. Up until his successful, tennis-filled summer of 2006, only smaller universities were interested in him, with the exception of Virginia Tech.

“He didn’t have great results until the summer before he was coming to college,” Thompson said. “But by the time most schools realized how good he was, we had already signed him.”

Excuse the hockey term, but you can once again credit Canada with the assist. You see, the Hokies once had another Quebecer, Francis Huot, who played for Tech from 2000-03. Huot loved his time in Blacksburg, and he just so happened to be great friends with a young player from Quebec named Sebastien Jacques. For those who follow Tech tennis, you might recognize Jacques as the Hokies’ current No. 4/5 singles player and Re’s doubles partner. Thompson was tipped off on Jacques by Huot, and low and behold, Jacques happened to be good buddies with Re.

“Francis really helped to steer Sebastien here,” Thompson said. “They were best friends back home and they trained with the same coaches. Francis also knew Yoann a little bit, but he knew that Sebastien knew Yoann really well. That helped us a lot.”

It ended up being a 2-for-1 deal for Thompson and the Hokies, as Re and Jacques both committed to Blacksburg and currently team up as the Hokies’ top doubles duo. But it’s in singles where Re has really made his mark in 2009.

“I think Yoann has always known that he could play at the top of our lineup,” Thompson said of his two-time ACC player of the week honoree. “It just took a little bit of confidence and believing in himself. He’s played all around the world and he’s very experienced. It was just a matter of getting the opportunity, and he certainly took it and ran with it.”

The opportunity came on Feb. 1 at top-ranked Ohio State, when Re, who played as Tech’s No. 3 in 2008 and began the 2009 season at No. 2 behind Nicolas Delgado de Robles, pulled off a huge upset. He toppled the nation’s sixth-ranked player by a score of 6-2, 6-4, prompting Thompson to move him into Delgado de Robles’s No. 1 spot in the lineup. He responded by ripping off 11 consecutive wins, including another upset of a top-10 player.

Though Re admitted that his fast start surprised him – and he knows that his No. 1 spot could be handed back to Delgado de Robles at any time if he falters – Thompson wasn’t quite as surprised.

“[Yoann] works hard, he’s quiet and he comes from great parents who have taught him good values,” Thompson said. “He looks at things the right way and he’s mature beyond his years. He wasn’t the typical 18- or 19-year-old freshman who was more interested in going to parties. He looks at things with mature eyes and he treats everything very professionally.”

Re indeed plays like a professional, and as a rare left-handed player, he said he’s constantly trying to use that to his advantage. He takes pride in his serve, which curves the opposite way of the normal right-hander’s, and he said he always tries to send his strong forehand to the weaker backhand of his opponent. With a path to stardom as unique as his, it’s fitting that his game should be unique as well.

“It’s just a little trickier to play a lefty,” Thompson said. “They seem to put a different spin on the ball. It’s just like in basketball when a guy goes up to shoot with his left hand, but the defender is so used to reaching to the right side to block the shot. It’s the same way. It’s a big advantage.”

As you can see, there are many things to which Re’s success can be attributed. Is it because he’s left-handed? Is it due to his Canadian connections allowing him to fall into the right place at Virginia Tech? Or is it because his time in France allowed him to play more tennis than the average North American? Heck, you could argue it was because too many children in Quebec opted to play hockey, prompting Re to head to France in the first place.

Whatever the answer, one thing’s for sure. In Re’s case, it couldn’t have flowed together any better.

Getting to know … Yoann Re Born: 10/2/88 in Pointe-Claire, Quebec, Canada
Parents: Humbert Re and Martine Blumstein
Siblings: Only child
Nickname: Yo
Other sports played growing up: Soccer
No hockey?: “I liked the Montreal Canadiens, but I never played hockey.”
Favorite tennis pro: Rafael Nadal. “I like his game and how he acts. He is really humble and he never gets mad on the court. When he was my age, he had already won a Grand Slam!”
Major: Finance
Favorite course: Introduction to Finance
Toughest course: Concepts and Skills in Finance
Roommates: Teammates Sebastien Jacques, Pedro Graber and Corrado Degl’ Incerti Tocci
Car you drive: Saturn
Favorite food: Pasta carbonara
Favorite music: Pop music
Last movie seen: He’s Just Not That Into You. “It’s a good one for a date.”
Who’s the lucky lady?: “Haha! I’m working on one.”
One thing people don’t know about you: “I’ve written two books – fantastical, Harry Potter-style novels. I just do it for fun in my free time in the summer.