Photo: NC State
After dedicating over five years to the men’s tennis program at North Carolina State University, Alexis Galarneau is ready to face off against the best of the best. The Laval native, who turned 22 on March 2 and had planned to embark on the pro tour in 2020, extended his US stay by a season due to the pandemic.
“Competing in the NCAA is a really unique experience,” said Galarneau. “Being part of a team and representing your teammates, coaches and university is so motivating. I spent five great years here. They really helped me in my development, and I’m making the most of my time here as it winds down. But I’m excited to turn pro and keep getting better,” he said.
In addition to playing for the Wolfpack, Galarneau has been riding high. When he returned to competitive tennis in November 2020 after eight months away, he secured his very first professional title at the ITF Legacy Bank NWA event in Fayetteville, Arkansas, when he defeated Roberto Quiroz of Ecuador in two quick sets (6-2, 6-1).
“It was really exciting to compete after so much time between events. I felt good coming into Arkansas and believed in my chances. I was very happy to win for myself and everyone around me, like my parents and teammates who support me every day. It built my confidence for what’s next.”-Alexis Galarneau
He also credits his coaching team with his success, citing the arrival of head coach Kyle Spencer and assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Cris James as a key moment in his NCAA career.
“When Kyle and Cris got here, things really changed for me. They established optimal conditions for me to do well when it’s so easy to get distracted by all that’s happening on a university campus. They believed in me and kept reminding me that I could have a good career as a pro,” he said.
NCAA: a path to consider for Canadian athletes
Some players move up from the juniors to the professional tour, but Alexis affirms that the NCAA was a major building block in his development and remains a great option for Canadian athletes who, like him, want to keep competing.
“The transition from junior to pro is a tough one. You have to be an exceptional player to move up,” he said. “On the college circuit, you can better prepare and work on different aspects of your game for fixed periods. That’s something you can’t do as a pro. And you play against the best juniors.”
In addition to the high caliber tennis, the team format is a hugely motivating factor because of the atmosphere during matches and for more technical reasons.
“Personally, I do better when I’m competing for something bigger than myself,” said Galarneau. “I like to have something at stake, and that’s often easier to find when you’re part of a team because your teammates are counting on you. With the fans and everyone from your university, it’s a great atmosphere. That really helps from a mental perspective because you learn to stay centered. In the beginning, I was too focused on how my teammates played and struggled to remain in my own game. Now, I’ve found the right balance.”
For Alexis Galarneau, the upside of NCAA tennis goes beyond the sport itself. For instance, American universities provide many athletes with more affordable access to cutting-edge facilities and services they couldn’t necessarily get as pros, including nutrition, treatment, specialized training and more. Players also work towards something tremendously valuable: a degree.
“It was important to me and my family that I earn my undergraduate degree before turning pro. It lifts some of the pressure and gives you a plan B. From a personal perspective, I’d say I learned a lot in school. Learning to organize my workload made me more mature,” said Galarneau, who earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and is currently studying for a diploma in sports management.
When it comes to his short-term objectives, Alexis isn’t looking too far ahead, since there’s no way to predict how 2021 will go because of the pandemic. However, though he’s currently ranked No. 521, his long-term plan is clear: to break into the Top 20 in the next three to four years.
“Once I’m officially on the ATP Tour, I’ll have a better idea of my level and what I need to work on to progress. Félix [Auger-Aliassime], who’s one of my closest friends, has given me great advice on transitioning to the pros,” said Alexis Galarneau. “I really believe in my chances of becoming one of the world’s 20 best players in the next few years.”