From Danish soccer fields to Texas tennis courts, Søren Hess-Olesen has always done things differently

Michael Shapiro

As he stands at the baseline of the tennis court, senior Søren Hess-Olesen makes his job look easy — but each of his victories and accolades are hard-earned.

Hess-Olesen, who was born in Aarhus, Denmark, came to tennis late in his childhood. Unlike many European tennis players, who are enrolled in academies from a very early age, Hess-Olesen didn’t start playing tennis until he was 10 years old.

“Soccer was definitely my main sport growing up,” Hess-Olesen said. “Around the age of 10, I started playing [tennis] with my twin brother Esben. It was evident I had talent from early on, but I wasn’t good enough to compete in tournaments.”

Even as he moved his way up to the No. 1 ranking among Danish youth, Hess-Olesen wasn’t highly desired by colleges in the United States. Instead, Hess-Olesen reached out to a number of college coaches throughout the country — including Texas head coach Michael Center.

“Honestly, he didn’t have a great résumé of matches and tournaments,” Center said. “[But] we started to call around and found out he’s a very good player, and I jumped on a plane and flew to Denmark as soon as I could.”

Playing under Center’s coaching proved integral for Hess-Olesen’s development as a player. Hess-Olesen began his career at the No. 1 singles spot as a freshman — a feat no Texas player had achieved since Dimitar Kutrovsky did so in 2007.

“Looking back, playing at the top spot from day one really helped my game,” Hess-Olesen said. “There was a lot of pressure, especially going up against the top players in the country, but it made me more mentally tough. That was something coach always stressed during practices and matches.”

Over the course of his sophomore and junior seasons, Hess-Olesen’s game continued to grow. He earned a long list of awards, including
the International Tennis Association All-American award in both 2013 and 2014. He capped off his junior season with an appearance in the semifinals of the NCAA Singles Championship, though he fell to the eventual champion, UCLA’s Marcos Giron.

Coming into this season, expectations were high for Hess-Olesen, who began the year ranked No. 13 in the nation. Hess-Olesen has managed to blow those expectations out of the water, reaching the No. 1 overall ranking in the most recent ITA polls.

As the 2014 NCAA Singles Championship semifinalist, 2014 Big 12 Player of the Year and 2013 and 2014 ITA All-American, Hess-Olesen is still adding to what will be a lasting legacy. But he said he hopes his legacy is defined in a different way.

“I want to be remembered as someone who did whatever he could to help his team,” Hess-Olesen said. “The awards are nice, but what’s really important to me is the work I put in to be the best player I could be.”