June 28, 2022 • By Keith Giles
Two talented tennis players changed UCI's luck at the Big West Tournament this year. “Everyone expected UC Santa Barbara to win the tournament since they had dominated for so long,” says UCI Men’s Tennis player Riccardo Roberto. “Most other teams just hoped they could win second place. But coach Mike Saunders believed this was our year.”
The addition of two European students greatly enhanced UCI’s 2022 men’s tennis team—Emmanuel Coste (France) and Riccardo Roberto (Italy)—who provided the spark our team needed to take home the 2022 Big West trophy.
Roberto and Coste came to the U.S. on a tennis scholarship, both finding their place at The UCI Paul Merage School of Business to get their master’s degrees.
Roberto, who recently graduated from UCI with an MIE, played professional tennis in Europe before coming to the US. “In Italy, if you want to keep competing at the highest level, it’s very difficult to pursue your business degree,” he says. “So, I came to the states to get my education and play tennis. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Coste also came to UCI to focus on his business education. “I wanted to earn my master’s degree in finance,” he says. “UCI had a one-year program through the Merage School that was perfect for my scholarship.”
Even with these two new additions to the team, competing and winning at Big West was no walk in the park. “We didn’t start well in the Tournament,” says Coste. “I remember we played UC Davis in the first quarterfinals round and we struggled hard, barely beating them.”
“After that close call against UC Davis, we played Cal Poly in the semi-finals the next day, and to be honest, we were a bit nervous,” says Coste. “We had lost to them in the regular season. But we knew that if we played our best, we could beat them. We swept them, 4-0.”
The second day’s win gave the UCI team a significant confidence boost going into the final round on day three against reigning champs UC Santa Barbara. “Playing against UCSB was a very, very intense thing,” says Roberto.
The team lost in the doubles round but didn’t give up hope. “After that loss in doubles, we started playing even harder,” says Roberto. “Everyone gave it their very best, on and off the court. Our fans were also really encouraging. At every single point, they were jumping out of their seats and cheering. It fueled our guys to keep going, especially at the end when you’re exhausted.”
The last two matches came down to Coste and Roberto. “We were both in our third set, and at this point, we felt good because we were up three-to-two. We only needed one more to win it,” says Coste. “I ended up being the one to clinch the last match to win the tournament for UCI. That’s when everyone in the crowd started going crazy.”
“Winning a tennis championship like this was something I had never experienced before,” Roberto says. “It was such a great feeling, lifting that trophy.”
Roberto, who recently graduated from The UCI Paul Merage School of Business with a Master’s in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is hoping to gain some hands-on experience before starting his own company. “For now, I’m looking to stay in the U.S. and hopefully find a marketing position in the video game industry, if possible.”
Coste, who finishes his Master’s program in Finance at UCI this August, also hopes to stay in the U.S. after graduation. “I’m interviewing for some jobs right now that will start in September,” he says, “so I’m very excited about that.”
This historic win for the UCI Men’s tennis team is their fourth Big West championship win and their first since 2011. As a result, the team is eligible to compete in their first NCAA Tournament since 2011.
“I was very proud of how the team bounced back after falling behind in the doubles round,” says Coach Saunders. “We had to come back and fight through the adversity, and that’s what we did. I’m proud of our competitive effort.”