During crucial points of Oregon tennis matches at the Student Tennis Center, it is common to hear chants of the French word “allez.”
While it literally translates to “going” in English, the chant is intended to mean “let’s go” and has become the de-facto rallying cry for fans and Oregon players as they have jumped out to a 3-0 start in their spring campaign.
It is no coincidence that the Ducks have adopted the chant since the arrival of freshman Thomas Laurent, a dynamic talent from Montpelier, France.
Laurent, an 18-year-old freshman who did not participate in fall play and arrived on campus for Winter term, is already one of the Ducks’ top players. By season’s end, Oregon coach Nils Scylander expects Laurent to be interchangeable with Oregon senior Daan Maasland — one of the top players in program history — in the No. 1 and No. 2 slots on the team.
“For coaches, I think it’s good to have tough decisions to make in the lineup,” Oregon sophomore Simon Stevens said. “That means that a lot of players are ready to play and they are able to compete in every spot … That’s a good weapon to know that we can change a little bit. It’s definitely a luxury to put [Maasland] on two.”
Coaches, teammates and opponents have all described Laurent’s game as “well-rounded.” While he doesn’t possess an overpowering forehand or untouchable serve, he stands 6-foot-3 and is able to reach balls that most players could not. He has a way of lulling opponents to sleep with an effortless style of play and stealing points through sheer consistency.
“In the minds of the players that play against him, it’s tough,” Stevens said. “You have to be focused every single ball, every single point.”
In his brief collegiate career, Laurent is 3-0 in singles play. Although the season is just a week old, he has already picked up a signature win that only furthers Schylander’s belief that he can compete against some of the top players in the country at the No. 1 slot for the Ducks.
While playing against No. 54 University of California Santa Barbara on Jan. 18., Laurent masterfully navigated his way through two sets and a tiebreaker against the Gauchos’ No. 1 Morgan Mays to pick up a crucial match win that clinched a team victory for the Ducks.
“He’s played so much tennis and so many tournaments in his life that competing comes very naturally to him,” Schylander said.
Oregon’s roster is loaded with international talent — seven of the Ducks’ 10 players hail from outside the U.S. — and Laurent has had to overcome the same obstacles that all exchange students face.
While he speaks solid English, he is not entirely fluent and often depends on Stevens, a Belgian international student, to translate for him.
“It’s very good to have a guy who can speak French sometimes, and there’s a lot of different cultures on the team,” Laurent said. “I think that’s good for our college game, and for tennis and for life in general.”
Laurent has had no problem adapting to life on the Oregon campus, and it appears that his game has translated just as well.
He was a standout talent on the French junior circuit and crafted his game against some of the top players in Europe.
“He played tournaments in France a lot and he’s obviously ranked very high,” Schylander said. “You don’t have the international results that he’s had without being at a high level.”