By Anup Shah
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
In the sweltering summer heat, under the spotlight of the NCAA Championships, the Longhorns always look for someone to step up on the big stage.
And for the last three years, Miguel Reyes Varela has proven to be the guy.
“He’s been a big match player for us,” Texas tennis coach Michael Center said. “In the critical matches, against the best teams, in the brightest moments. That’s when Miguel shines.”
Reyes Varela, or Mickey as he’s better known, holds an 11-2 singles mark in the NCAA Championships, and has plenty of big matches on his resume.
But the biggest win came in the 2006 NCAA Championships against Ohio State. With the Longhorns badly needing a victory, Reyes Varela rallied from a 5-2 deficit in a third set tiebreaker to push the Longhorns 4-3 past the Buckeyes and into the NCAA quarterfinals. Since then, Reyes Varela has proven himself to be a prime time player over and over again.
“It’s the atmosphere,” Reyes Varela said. “The intensity all around. That desire to reach that goal. You have 64 of the best teams and you see that trophy in the middle. You feel the adrenaline and you just want to win.”
In three years at the NCAA Championships, Reyes Varela has finished on the All-Tournament team three times. In 2006, he was named No. 5 singles and in 2008, he was No. 6 singles and No. 2 doubles. Center says he has his own way of dealing with players, and for someone as tough-minded as Mickey, he figures it’s best he be left alone.
“He’s stubborn,” Center said. “He sees things a certain way and he’s just stubborn. He’s so incredibly intelligent and when you’re that smart, you tend to see things your own way.”
But Center certainly doesn’t see it as a bad thing.
“Things just comes naturally for him, whether it’s school or tennis,” Center said “He always knows what he wants to do and he does it.”
Reyes Varela doesn’t deny his stubborn nature, and attributes it to his first coach, his dad.
“I learned growing up from my Dad a lot,” Reyes Varela said. “From him I learned to be very rational, trying to always make sense of things and being analytical. He taught me to think things through myself. I’m always stubborn and I try to analyze it my way.”
That instinct paid off when he began playing at the National Center for the Mexican Federation, a premier academy in Mexico. There, Reyes Varela became the No. 46 player in the world and the No. 1 player in his country.
When it came time to deciding on a school, a former Longhorn played a significant role. The coach at his academy was Edgar Giffenig, who played tennis at Texas in the 1980s. To top it off, the amicable personality of Texas assistant coach Ricardo Rubio helped Reyes Varela make his final decision.
“[Rubio] never pushed me, he was always so laid back,” Reyes Varela said. “We always had good phone conversations. And then there was also the Spanish thing.”
Certain players also swayed Reyes Varela in his decision, in particular, Luis Diaz Barriga, whom he played with at the Orange Bowl in 2005.
“Luis was a big factor,” Reyes Varela said. “There were a lot of guys I talked to, but because Luis was here at the time, he was a good person for me to relate to.”
The two played together for three years at Texas, and in last year’s run to the NCAA title match, the two posted a 4-0 record in the championships, including doubles-clinching victories over Georgia and UCLA.
In addition to his big win against OSU in 2006, Reyes Varela has won several other nail biters. In his sophomore season, he upset 64th-ranked Clancy Shields of Boise State 6-1, 6-3. In the 2008 NCAA semifinal match, he rallied to beat UCLA’s Nick Meister 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 to help the Longhorns advance. Then, in the title match against Georgia, he upset Christian Vitulli 6-4, 6-3. The list of big wins list is long, but he still feels it every time.
“I’m nervous and I can’t deny it,” Reyes Varela said. “But I am also excited. When I start playing I know my time to get nervous is over.”
But all individual accolades aside, what Reyes Varela loves most about being a Longhorn is the teammates and friends he’s made since arriving here in January of 2006.
“The team environment is something we don’t have [in Mexico],” Reyes Varela said. “It’s very individual. You’re just trying to play nationals. We don’t have high school tennis, we only have academies.”
Now with nine guys living in the same house, Reyes Varela sees team tennis much differently than he did four years ago.
“This team, it’s the first real team environment that I’ve had,” Reyes Varela said. “We do everything together and it’s nice to have these guys by my side.”
But when his Longhorn career will conclude in December, Reyes Varela will likely go back home to try and pursue that career as a pro.
“I’ll go home, play some tournaments,” Reyes Varela said. “It’s hard to play Futures right away. And being at home, it’ll be much easier to cover my expenses. But I’ll pursue that goal, that dream, at least give it a shot. Whatever happens, happens. ”
As he looks towards a pro career, he’ll obviously have to watch the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. But when asked which one he prefers, Reyes Varela gave his own stubborn, independent answer.
“Neither,” he said. “No I like surprises. I always like the young players who give a surprise. The ones who go in there and go for it. No fear.”
And it’s exactly that attitude Reyes Varela will need to take him to the top.