Commitment to USF drives Antelo

Commitment is something that is questioned for many college athletes.

In a time when high schoolers bypass education for a shot at the NBA, and coaches leave to greener pastures while leaving promises to players behind, Paco Antelo has shown amazing commitment to his career as a tennis player and student at USF.

“Paco is not selfish at all,” said team captain Jorge Escallon of his teammate.

“He shares his knowledge of the game with all of us and he brings a tremendous amount of cohesiveness to our team.”

Antelo’s commitment to tennis showed last Sunday at the Conference USA Championships in Louisville.

Facing Tulane’s Victor Romero at No. 2 singles in the championship match, the Bulls were leading 3-2 and needed just one more singles victory to clinch the championship. But Paco’s teammate Uli Kiendl had just lost his second set at No. 4 singles, so the Bulls needed one of them to win their third in order to gain the school’s fourth C-USA Championship.

After winning the first set 6-3, Antelo lost the second set to Romero 3-6, so the momentum and the elements were against the Bulls.

“We hadn’t played indoors all season,” Antelo said.

“But the incentive was there. This was the championship on the line. When we were forced inside after losing the doubles point, nobody had to say a thing. We all knew what we were playing for.”

Romero (ranked No. 67 in singles) was able to break Antelo’s serve to start the set, but was unable to keep up with Antelo’s smooth ground game afterwards. Antelo went on to win the set 6-2 and clinch the championship for the Bulls.

“It was really sweet,” Antelo said. “Having all your teammates there pulling for you meant so much to me and helped me keep focus.”

Focus and commitment have helped Antelo overcome his deficiencies in his game.

“He needs to get a bigger first serve,” said Bulls coach Don Barr. “We have been working on that all year. But he loves to compete and he has great passing shots. When he is playing his best tennis you have to beat him because he is not going to beat himself. I think that is a great quality to have. He is so mentally tough and is a great leader on our team.”

Antelo is so committed to his teammates that he has foregone the opportunity to play Davis Cup for his country, Bolivia, in both his seasons at USF, opting to play for the Bulls instead.

“I played at the Davis Cup when I was 15 and 16,” Antelo said. “I haven’t gone back because we (USF) have always had crucial matches to play here. I really couldn’t leave the team. We were going to play (No. 39) Miami that week. I am here to play for USF. Unfortunately, Bolivia is secondary to me.”

Born 19 years ago in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Antelo was the youngest of four children to his parents Jose and Gloria. He also is the only male child, having grown up behind sisters Carolina, 32, Cinzia, 28, and Analize, 24. At age nine his parents wanted him to start a sport and tennis was the choice.

“I love soccer a lot, as does everyone in South America,” Antelo said.

“After my first six months of practice and tennis classes is when I realized I really liked tennis. But it was only after those first six months. I still play soccer when I can. Last year, the whole team played intramurals at USF.”

Antelo credits his parents for their total support in whatever he does.

“The major thing about them is that they never pressure me when I play tennis,” Antelo said. “They just want me to give my best on the court. If I lose it’s OK; if I win better. But they never put pressure on me to play a certain way or for a certain reason. They support me 100 percent.”

As Antelo’s skills grew, he began to attract the attention of many scouts here in the United States. One such scout was Thomas Anderson, who was based out of Miami and the Nick Bolletieri Tennis Camp, the same camp where Barr happened to spend five years. Anderson recommended Antelo to Barr, as a friend, and because he knew the level of play Barr was looking for.”He (Antelo) really liked Florida,” Barr said. “When I called him up he sounded very interested. We got together and he decided to come here when we told him about our program.”

After graduating from high school in Bolivia in the fall of 1999, Antelo went to Oklahoma to study English and then arrived at USF in fall of 2000 to play tennis for the Bulls.

Antelo does not have any family here, so he looks to his teammates.

“His best quality as a person is that he is very outgoing,” Escallon said. “He brings a lot of cohesiveness to the team and has fun on and off the court.”

“He’s first class,” Barr said. “He’s so easy to get along with, and all of his teammates really like him. He also works really, really hard and that’s what makes him a strong leader.”

Antelo knows he made the right choice by coming to USF.

“I like the Florida weather and the people,” Antelo said. “I feel at home and I am so thankful I came here to USF.”

Antelo’s commitment to his team and his school have helped him move up to No. 104 in the nation. He will help lead the No. 22 Bulls into NCAA Tournament action that will begin the weekend of May 11 and 12.

Chris Lemke covers men’s tennis and can be reached at
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