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Hugo Vidal — the Salukis’ French Connection

September 28, 2011

By Tyler Wooten
Saluki Media Services

You won’t find a sport more diverse than collegiate tennis in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Out of the six men’s teams in the Valley, more than half of the players are from foreign countries. Perennial power Wichita State has a roster which is entirely made up of foreign players.

On head coach Dann Nelson’s Southern Illinois roster, seven out of nine players are foreign. But the Salukis have one strategic advantage in the recruiting race, or at least the French recruiting race, over the rest of the MVC — graduate assistant coach Hugo Vidal.

A native of La Ciotat, France, Vidal came to play at SIU in 2006 after a stint at junior college powerhouse Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas. At TJC, Vidal went 19-3 in singles and was nationally ranked at No. 13 at the junior college level and earned the NJCAA’s Distinguished Academic All-American award.

Vidal’s decision to come to the United States was one that many aspiring European tennis players make.

“We don’t have any high school or college teams,” Vidal explained. “After high school, if you go to college in France, you have to quit tennis.”

He had a stellar three-year career at SIU where he went 43-21 in singles and was named to the MVC All-Conference team. After graduation, the 4.0 GPA student chose to stay with the Saluki tennis program as a grad assistant.

This past year, Vidal has used his ties to French tennis organizations to help bring in two French transfers — senior Stanislas Rodier from TJC and junior Badr Cherradi from NAIA Shorter University.

Dann Nelson (left) and Hugo Vidal pose with the 2009 MVC Championship trophy

Rodier, a native of Paris, played in the French Tennis Federation, an elite club that only accepts the top players in the country.

“I realized it was a good opportunity to come here and learn English and get a bachelor’s degree from an American college,” said Rodier, who played No. 3 singles and No. 2 doubles as part of a national championship team in 2010. “Hugo contacted me and told me things about the school. I thought it was great, so I came here. I love it.”

Cherradi played at No. 1 singles and doubles for Shorter where he was ranked nationally and participated twice in the NAIA national championships. He came to SIU because of his connection with Vidal and because of the University’s nationally ranked School of Business.

“It was easier for me to come to a university where there are people that can speak the same language as me,” Cherradi said. “I didn’t want the whole team to be French, but I wanted a part of it, so it’s perfect. Hugo is a good coach and Stan is a good friend now.”

Vidal said the language and cultural connections are important for a foreign student-athlete to be successful. Since many of the French players come from big cities like Paris or Marseilles, adjusting to a town the size of Carbondale is easier when they can speak to someone from their homeland.

“Sometimes players are looking for someone to talk to and someone to understand them in different ways, whether about tennis or classes or any other things that they may need,” Vidal explained. “I think it also makes them really happy to be able to speak French in some way. Same for me, I’m just happy to speak French, my own language, every once in a while. I think it’s also easier for me when I coach them. I think I can find better words and better meaning, and I think they understand what I’m trying to say to them more than other players might.”

Recruiting foreign players is essential for schools like Southern Illinois, because there aren’t enough high-level American players to go around.

“A lot of the really good tennis players in our region — whether they’re from Illinois or from surrounding states — the Big Ten schools and other big schools snatch them up real quick,” Nelson said. “For us to get an American that could really help us we would have to take a recruit away from, say, Illinois or Ohio State or Michigan, or somebody like that.”

Foreign recruits aren’t as concerned with the prestige of playing at a Big Ten school, he said.

“We can get that same caliber kid if we go overseas, and they don’t have a preference,” Nelson said. “They’re not thinking Big 12 or Pac 12 or Big Ten or SEC. They’re just thinking that they want to come over and play college tennis and continue their studies with their sport, which they can’t do if they stay in Europe or South America or wherever they come from.”

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