Payton Holden spent four years in New Jersey making his mark in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association as one of the highest-ranked doubles competitors, and now he’s returned home to Texas.
The graduate student joined the Texas men’s tennis roster this fall after transfering from Princeton — one of the nation’s top tennis programs.
Like many other spring sports athletes who had their senior seasons cut short due to the pandemic, Holden was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. As a graduate student, Holden would not be allowed to compete in athletics under Ivy League rules, leaving him to either search for a new school or graduate without playing his final tennis season.
Luckily for Holden, who hails from Austin, his next chapter was right in his own backyard.
“After my time away from home, I realized that Austin is definitely the best place for me,” Holden said. “So when I had the opportunity to go to grad school and compete for another year, UT was right on the top of that list.”
Holden’s family moved to Austin from Michigan when he was 9 years old. With a newfound passion for tennis, Holden enrolled at the Austin Tennis Academy as opposed to traditional schooling. There, he played under the instruction of CEO and lead coach Jack Newman.
Newman coached Holden from the time he enrolled at the academy at just 9 years old until his high school graduation. While Newman has had many successful collegiate athletes pass through his program, he still remembers what it was like to coach Holden.
“Payton was super fun to work with on a weekly basis as a young, talented player,” Newman said. “He's a very charismatic player and he has a lot of abilities.”
Holden’s work ethic from such a young age earned him the No. 1 player in Texas title during his U12, U14, U16 and U18 seasons. He also won a Junior Team National Championship. With his success at the academy making him a five-star recruit, Holden had a wide variety of schools to choose from to pursue tennis at the collegiate level. He said he’d wanted to go to an Ivy League school from a young age, and tennis was a way for him to achieve that goal.
“It's kind of funny because, at my tennis academy, we would always set goals and stuff and share them with other people in the group,” Holden said. “One of my rivals was like, ‘Oh, I want to go to Harvard,’ and I was like, ‘I can't put the same thing that he did,’ and the only (school) I could think about was Princeton. I didn't really think about it, and then five years later I was like, ‘Holy crap, I can actually go to Princeton.’”
After enrolling at Princeton, Holden quickly made an impact, leading the team in both doubles and singles his freshman year. He came in full force when he joined Texas this fall, winning six of the seven singles matches he’s competed in, and eight of the 13 doubles matches he’s competed in.
“Just seeing him be able to compete with the Longhorns would be a dream come true for all of us, and to have him on home turf will be awesome,” said Holden’s father, Brad.
Although Holden has only one semester left to be a Longhorn, he looks forward to what the dual-match season brings.
“I only have one year at UT, so one of my personal goals is just to try to help the team as much as I can, in any way, for this one year,” Holden said.