Ambidextrous Swiss Smoothly Leads Men's Tennis

Feb. 14, 2008

By Sheena Nguyen
The Daily

Good cheese, great chocolate, famed watches and breathtaking mountains are all products of Switzerland that many have come to know and love. Washington has yet another reason to value this country's exports, though: UW men's tennis team's co-captain, Patrik Fischer.

From his blistering serve to his formidable forehand, this 6-foot ambidextrous junior leads the team with a record of 4-2 at the No.1 singles spot.

Come out to the Nordstrom Tennis Center this weekend and check out the best teams in the nation at the ITA National Men's Team Indoor Championships.

'Patrik is a guy who is a great leader and inspires a lot of the players around him,' Washington coach Matt Anger said.

Fischer's journey to get to where he is now wasn't quite as smooth as Swiss chocolate, though; it was more like a trek through the Alps.

'When I first met Patrik three years ago, he had just come to the U.S.,' recalled Cora Wilke-Gray, a sophomore at Holy Names Academy who took tennis lessons from Fischer.

'His English wasn't the best and I couldn't even really understand his German. ... He was in my dad's German class,' she said.

Although German is Fischer's native tongue, the German language is spoken differently in his hometown of Herzogenbuchsee, Switzerland. Because of the communication barrier among other things, he had a rougher, if not longer, transition to the customs in the United States than other foreign athletes.

'It was a big difference for me to come here from so far away,' Fischer said. 'So far away from my family and it's such a different atmosphere to play on a team. In Switzerland it was all individual -- you play for yourself. You don't play for your school or anybody. ... Here it's much more complex. You play for the whole school, you play for your team, you play for your coach but also for yourself. It was kind of hard at the beginning; you have so much responsibility. You have to be there 100 percent every day.'

Otherwise, Fischer said, Seattle and Switzerland really aren't so different. 'Seattle is probably one of the cities that are most similar to Switzerland,' he commented. 'Especially the climate -- it's pretty cold and pretty rainy.'

Despite the amount of rain and the other obstacles Fischer has had to overcome, his passion for the sport has carried him through.

'It's just fun,' he said. 'I still enjoy going to the tennis courts every single day.'

This comes from a guy who's been playing the sport for almost two decades.

Fischer was first drawn to the sport when he was 6 years old and picked up a racquet to hit a ball against his basement well. Before long, his father, who is also an avid tennis player, began regularly taking him to the tennis courts to play.

Although most kids who begin learning tennis naturally swing forehands with their dominant hand and find their way with a backhand on the opposite side, things didn't happen that way for Fischer.

'I started double-handed on both sides,' he explained. 'When I went to a coach for the first time, he asked me if I was left-handed or right-handed, and I said, `I don't know.' I write left-handed, ... [and] I started to play left-handed, but it wasn't so good. My dad told me to switch back the next day and it was better, but serving with my right hand didn't work because I couldn't throw so well with my left hand. It just felt better right away [serving] with the left hand, and that's how serving left and playing right started.'

From there it's been pretty much smooth sailing for Fischer, who's had more than a decade to adjust to this style of play.

Not only has he adjusted, but he's also thriving, and it's evident to anyone on the court with him.

One of his doubles partners this season, sophomore Derek, Drabble accredits a big part of his game to Fischer.

'Just practicing with him has improved my game a lot,' he said. 'He's a great player, and he's still growing.'

Wilke-Gray, who has been coached by two former All-American tennis players for Washington, Alex Vlaski and Alex Slovichas, as well as Fischer, has been able to witness firsthand Fischer's progress -- both on the court and with the team.

'He really wants good things for the team, and it shows,' she said. 'He's really improved, and he's really tried to help everybody else so that the whole team can improve, and it's great.'

If Fischer keeps this up, who knows -- maybe Washington will have to make room at the Nordstrom Tennis Center for yet another fist-pumping All-American poster on its wall.

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