By David Cohen
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Many of the top NCAA tennis programs’ rosters feature players from all over the world. It is certainly an adjustment for any of them to live in America for four years. It was an even bigger one for TCU’s Arnau Dachs.
One would not notice anything different about Dachs when watching him now, other than that he is one of the Horned Frogs’ top players. What many do not realize is that Dachs’ first year on campus in 2011-12 was spent learning English and not being allowed to participate in any practices or workouts with his teammates or even a conversation about tennis with his coach.
“In the beginning it was hard to adapt to, especially with the language, and the place was all different because I had never been here before,” Dachs, a junior from Vic, Spain, said. “I thought it would be worse, but I remember the first month or two I was so frustrated because I didn’t know what to do and I was completely lost.”
While Dachs, who currently ranks No. 121 nationally by the ITA, does say that it only took a few months to get used to everything in his new home, he is quick to point out that life got “pretty easy” from there.
The culture change was one obstacle, but the simple tragedy of an NCAA rule that directly applied to Dachs was the biggest mountain to climb.
“There’s a rule that says you must start your college career no later than six months after you graduate,” TCU head coach David Roditi said. “You’d have some guys take three years off before [going to an American] university. They want 18- and 19-year-old freshman.
“If you wait six months you have to [sit out and lose a year of eligibility], and that was the case with Arnau,” Roditi said. “In Spain you don’t know about the US college system, and especially a year after you graduate.”
The terms of the ineligible clause stretched even farther than being on the roster but not in the lineup. He was essentially his own team.
“I couldn’t even practice with [the team],” Dachs said. “Basically, if they were practicing on the purple courts, I would go with another guy to the back ones. If the team had a workout, I would have to go an hour [after they left]. It was really tough. I watched every match and I couldn’t wait to jump in there and play. But it went by pretty fast. It wasn’t as bad as I thought.”
Dachs was far from a stranger from his teammates when away from the court, living with Nick Chappell, currently No. 46 nationally, his freshman year, and striking up a friendship early on with junior Facundo Lugones, his roommate now.
“We both speak Spanish so we get along pretty well, and now we live off campus,” Lugones said. “He’s a really good guy and we never argue. We are good friends.”
While that aspect of the friendship is symbiotic, the other half is more ironic.
“We both like soccer a lot. Since he’s from Catalonia, he doesn’t like Spain [teams] that much,” Lugones said. “We don’t get in that many fights about Spain and Argentina soccer. It’s nice to learn from his culture and him from mine.”
If anything, Dachs’ unique recruitment to TCU could have been a nice foreshadowing of how well he would get along with people in Fort Worth amid his early adversity. He knew former TCU star and three-time singles All-American Esteban Carril, who was a coach in Spain, and Carril instilled the value of the program within Dachs.
“He realized I wanted to go to America and contacted me and told me to try this university because it was really good and the coach was too,” Dachs said. “He told me it was the best place I could be.”
Just from the people aspect, it seemed like Dachs was destined for TCU all along. However, the 5,202-mile trek to Fort Worth was stressful in more ways than simply the time spent going from Point A to Point B, as experienced in the Atlanta airport.
“I remember the first trip here, I was in Atlanta and I lost my flight,” Dachs said. “The flight from Barcelona was an hour late and when I got to the gate it was locked. I couldn’t speak to anybody, but there was a guy there who asked if I had missed my flight and I followed him.
“Coach [Mark Tjia] picked me up from the airport and the road trip here was just ‘yes’ and ‘no’ because I didn’t know what to say. It was pretty bad.”
Dachs currently has a 5-3 mark on No. 2 singles and an 8-2 showing on No. 3, both best on the team. He also won six straight matches from Feb. 16 to March 1, capping it off with a 7-5, 6-3 win over No. 60 George Goldhoff of No. 5 Texas. Showing off the ultimate athlete persona, he simply says that his recent success this year was just a product of him simply playing.
“I really didn’t do anything special,” Dachs said. “I was just focused and wanted to get the job done. Every single match was a different day with different feelings and emotions, but I just wanted to find a way no matter what.”
Last year, in his de facto sophomore campaign, he won both his No. 1 singles matches and led the squad with a 13-7 No. 2 showing.
Dachs admits that he is entirely undecided on what he will do when his Horned Frog career is over.
“I don’t know if I’m going to go back to Spain or stay here,” he said. “The more I’m here the more I want to play professional tennis. I’m actually gaining more excitement to do it. That’s the main option for now.”
Roditi is proud of what Dachs has accomplished on both ends of the student-athlete spectrum, and he has much faith that Dachs will succeed in whichever venture he dedicates himself to.“The sky’s the limit. One way to describe him is that he is a well-rounded person.”