It is tough to judge how well a person does their job just by talking to them. That is why I wanted to see UR tennis head coach Matt Nielsen in action.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect out of a tennis coach in general. How involved are they in their players’ game? How vocal are they? What exactly is their role?

All these questions flashed through my mind as I watched the Flower City Tournament the other weekend. And while I suppose every coach is different, Nielsen’s presence on the court was immediately felt by both his players and the fans.

The first thing I noticed about the first year coach is that he seemed to have a connection with his players. When I got a chance to sit down and talk with him later, he mentioned that as something he considers to be essential.

‘Developing a relationship with your players is maybe most critical as a coach, making sure they understand that you want them to do well and that you are in this with them,” Nielsen said. ‘I think that makes a big difference in terms of how motivated they are to work for you and to play well.”

And UR certainly played well and overcame adversity in the tournament in its match against Ithaca College.

Nielsen played a vital role, talking to some players during game breaks and, for others, simply encouraging them throughout their match. It is that understanding of the individual needs of his players that Nielsen claims is imperative.

‘I’ve learned a lot over the past five years about how each player is different and how each has their own personality,” Nielsen said, speaking of his five years here at UR, four as an assistant coach. ‘Everybody’s different, with different needs and expectations. I think that is one of the biggest differences between tennis and other sports.”

For Nielsen, who accepted the job as head coach of both the men’s and women’s tennis teams in July, this understanding has been especially useful. His teams have both proved successful thus far this fall, with the men at 3-1 after a strong weekend at St. Lawrence University and the women sitting at 2-0.

Nielsen knows a thing or two about success. At the age of 14, he was ranked 44th in the nation for his age group. At 16, he was 76th nationally.

In fact, since he began tennis at the age of four, Nielsen has been on the winning end of the scoreboard more often than not.

‘My dad started me when I was young, and then I kind of showed some talent early on,” he said. ‘I really enjoyed it and wanted to play a lot, so it just happened naturally that that was the sport I ended up playing through high school.”

After graduating from Honeoye Falls-Lima High School in 1997, Nielsen went on to Penn State University, where he played tennis all four years he attended and graduated with a degree in kinesiology.

‘It was a lot of fun and, at the same time, tough,” Nielsen said. ‘We played a really demanding schedule. The Big Ten has a lot of nationally ranked schools and it was a great experience.”

The Rochester-area native ascended to as high as No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles his senior year and earned a number of scholar-athlete awards through the course of his four years as a Nittany Lion.

Upon graduating, Nielsen decided to move back to Rochester, where the allure of family and a community of fellow tennis players he had met and played with over the years was only too tempting.

At the same time, the coach was unsure of what he really wanted to do in life.

‘I wasn’t too sure what direction I was going to go at that point in terms of a career,” Nielsen confided. ‘But I knew I loved tennis and wanted to stay with that.”

In 2003, Nielsen earned the job as assistant coach at UR and, since that point, he has striven to impart on the student-athletes the same kind of lessons that he has learned during his years on the court.

Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.

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