By CLAIRE CRUZ, Special to the Star
Cristian Alaniz didn’t like tennis the first time he tried it, or the second. But the third time, as a sophomore at Lyford in 2016, something clicked.
His life now revolves around tennis. He carries a racket around because he “feels naked without it” and even strings his own equipment. He has lost 35 pounds and keeps a close eye on his hydration, diet, heart rate and sleep schedule to improve his game. He watches and studies his idols Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in his free time.
All the hard work and dedication has Alaniz heading to College Station to compete in the University Interscholastic League state tournament Thursday and Friday.
“Something just came to me to be competitive with it, it’s hard to explain,” Alaniz said. “I love that it’s a difficult sport. That makes me want to be better, to be able to do something not everyone else can do.”
Alaniz has put in countless hours to achieve this goal. At the recommendation of Lyford tennis coach David Lopez, he joined the United State Tennis Association in 2016 and began going to Pendleton Park after practice in Lyford for three hours of extra work.
Coaches Don Van Ram Shorst and Jacob Worrell helped develop his fundamentals and drill him on proper techniques. Worrell also works on Alaniz’s mental game, teaching him to strategize and control his emotions. On Sundays, he works with Tony Mendoza in Weslaco, playing matches against a variety of competitors.
“His work ethic is higher than any other kids down here. He’s up there with our elite players. That’s how he got where he is so quickly,” Worrell said.
After narrowly missing a state berth last season, Alaniz became more determined to reach the top. He put in 12-hour days all summer at Pendleton Park with Worrell and Van Ram Shorst. He also joined Lopez’s cross country team in the fall to increase his stamina. It wasn’t easy, but he told himself, “This is for tennis. I know you hate it, but you have to get better,” to get through the miles.
Alaniz lost a four-hour final match at the regional tournament but still earned a spot at state. He became Lyford’s third state qualifier with the achievement. Lopez, who is in his 13th year with Bulldogs tennis, said Alaniz will go down as one of the top two athletes in program history.
“Most tennis players have played our whole lives, but it’s no more than three years that he’s really been into it. That’s what makes him so special,” Lopez said. “He has a natural ability, but the court time he puts in and growing up mentally has had a lot to do with (his success).”
Alaniz credits his success first and foremost to God but says his dad has played a major role. For Javier Alaniz, all the time, money and miles are worth it to see the joy tennis brings his son.
“When I saw the passion he had, I knew nothing would stop me from making him the best,” Javier Alaniz said. “I did what I knew I had to … and I thank God He gave me the strength and the patience, because look where we are now.”
Though Alaniz’s time at Lyford is almost over, his impact on the program will linger. Freshmen Austin Martinez and Diego Salazar earned varsity spots this season and said Alaniz’s endless tips and pointers helped them do so. They’re proud to see one of their own go to state and hope to follow in his footsteps.
As the tournament gets closer, Alaniz doesn’t feel pressure or nerves. He’s ready to take the big stage and let all his hard work shine.
“I put a lot of stuff aside to focus on tennis,” Alaniz said. “I want people to see me and say, ‘Whoa, who is this kid?’ I’m excited to show what I can do.”