Men’s Tennis: The Sanborn Identity

Sarah Kuta

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Ask anyone who frequents Northwestern tennis matches where to find Alex Sanborn and they will undoubtedly point you in the direction of the boisterous “¡Vamos, Alex!” cheers.

As he finishes his senior season, Sanborn’s days hearing his mother Rosalba’s animated words of encouragement from the stands are numbered. Rosalba, an adamant NU fan, is a recognizable figure at most home meets. And for good reason-she was the one who started tossing tennis balls to Alex when he was 3 years old.

“She’s a loud Mexican lady,” Sanborn said with a smile. “She loves being around the tennis court and she likes to cheer a lot.”

Though being motherly isn’t in his job description as captain, Sanborn has plenty of maternal experience.

“He’s like the team mom,” freshman Spencer Wolf said. “He’s always on top of us, always pushing us.”

With four freshmen on the roster, Sanborn has made it his duty to see that they succeed on the court, in the classroom and anywhere else. If that means proofreading their papers or driving them to the supermarket, Sanborn has every aspect of their first year at NU covered.

Sanborn started hitting tennis balls with his brother Richard and sister Christine as a pastime. At age 7 and after several years of lessons, he knew tennis was more than a hobby. At his private high school in Houston, Sanborn was able to finagle his schedule so he could spend the majority of his afternoon and evening practicing. At age 16, he was the top doubles player in the state.

Sanborn was named team captain at NU his sophomore year. As he matured, his relationship with coach Arvid Swan morphed into a friendship that each recognizes and values.

“Alex is the best captain I’ve ever been around,” Swan said.

Over the past three years, Sanborn has noticed that the transparency between player and coach has grown.

“He’s open to me,” Sanborn said. “He tells me what he’s thinking and I tell him what I’ve been thinking about the team. He really values my opinion.”

Though both Swan and the team value what the senior has to say, Sanborn’s leadership philosophy involves less talk and more action.

By focusing his energy on whatever task is at hand, Sanborn said he hopes his teammates will emulate him. And they do, mimicking his conduct and demeanor on and off the court.

“We’ll try to mold ourselves after him in terms of leadership, how to treat other teammates, how to treat other people in general,” Wolf said.

After Sanborn defeated Purdue’s Thomas Wilson last weekend at No. 6 singles, he calmly walked across the Vandy Christie Tennis Center to court four.

There was no celebration; Sanborn’s victory appeared unimportant. His focus immediately shifted to freshman Sidarth Balaji’s No. 2 singles match, which had gone to the third set.As the final set wore on, Balaji became visibly frustrated. With his arms crossed, Sanborn’s eyes never left the court. He used Balaji’s nickname “Buddha” to keep the freshman positive and calm.

Although he is the smallest player on the team at 5-foot-8, Sanborn’s sportsmanship and charisma defy his size.

“He has an overall presence even for his short stature,” freshman Mark Schanerman said.As NU looks ahead to its final four conference matches before the Big Ten Tournament, it will also be looking ahead to a season without Sanborn.

Regardless of his height, the Cats will undoubtedly notice the absence of their three-year captain, leader and most importantly, team mom.

“We’re going to be missing a big chunk of our team,” freshman Chris Jackman said. “Even though he’s a little guy.”