Advantage: Sarkissian

Professional tennis player Alex Sarkissian (’14) takes tools learned at Pepperdine on the ATP Pro Tour.

December 5, 2014  | 4 min read

Until arriving at Pepperdine, professional tennis player Alex Sarkissian depended only on himself on the court. He viewed tennis as an individual, self-focused sport. An only child, Sarkissian maintained this philosophy from his tennis beginnings at age 6 in his hometown of Glendale, California.

“I liked that I was in control of everything,” says Sarkissian. “I had no teammates to rely on and I liked the competition.”

So he was quite surprised upon being recruited by Pepperdine that the men’s tennis team followed a different philosophy. Former head coach Adam Steinberg, who left Pepperdine in July to become head coach at the University of Michigan, emphasized a team-oriented environment, where athletes supported and encouraged one another.
“I was never exposed to that idea of teamwork before,” Sarkissian explains.

Sarkissian had played on his own for so long that he didn’t understand what many young tennis players don’t: that college tennis is team first.

“These kids become accountable to each other,” says Steinberg. “They realize that if they do something negative, it affects not only themselves, but also their teammates, past players, and the program.”

Current head coach Marcelo Ferreira, who replaced Steinberg, has been involved in other tennis programs, but says Pepperdine’s is special because of Steinberg’s group philosophy.

“He always preached to the guys the importance of being selfless, of caring for one another,” Ferreira comments. “Adam always stressed that they should rely on each other as soon as they set foot on the tennis court, as well as off court, and that the benefits of doing that are always beyond normal expectations. That blew me away.”

As a result, Ferreira observed players like Sarkissian improve their game significantly.

“I’ve seen players with a lot of potential and talent, but they never achieve their long- term goals, because they just care about themselves and live in their bubble the entire time,” Ferreira says.

Feeling responsibility for one another helps players deal with hard times on the court.

“Alex understands that his best tennis comes when he’s positive, when his body language is right, and with how he carries himself in the face of adversity,” Steinberg says. “I see already how it has carried over these past few months in the matches I’ve watched him play in.“

sarkissian-1 Alex Sarkissian celebrates alongside former Pepperdine men’s tennis head coach Adam Steinberg after finishing the 2014 NCAA Singles Tournament as the runner-up champion.

Once Sarkissian embraced the team concept, his game improved significantly. He made Pepperdine history with his achievements, including earning 2014 West Coast Conference Player of the Year.

“Helping others get better while improving myself helped me in many ways for tennis and personally, including getting ready to play professionally,” Sarkissian says.

Since graduating last spring, Sarkissian has distinguished himself on the intense and competitive professional tennis circuit, raising his Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) singles ranking from 866 in early summer to 595 in late October.

“I would love to be the best player in the world like Roger Federer,” Sarkissian says. “I’m traveling for tournaments, getting my ranking up, and trying to maintain my skills. We’ll see how things go.”

His former Pepperdine coaches are big fans. They watched him grow and develop tremendously this past year.

“He’s doing great on the pro tour. I’m really proud of him,” Steinberg says. “His potential’s unlimited. I can’t wait to see him grow over the next few years and one day watch him in the U.S. Open.”

Sarkissian has the talent and skills to make it in the pro circuit, agrees Ferreira.

“He’s already achieved a lot and I truly believe that he is doing all the right things to become a successful pro player,” he enthuses.

Sarkissian’s greatest on-court strengths are his ground strokes, Steinberg says.

“A lot of players have weaknesses on certain strokes. Alex really doesn’t have any weaknesses. He’s solid on both sides and that’s what makes him dangerous,” he remarks.

Former Pepperdine teammate and professional player David Sofaer (’14) came to know Sarkissian on and off court through the many college tournaments to which the athletes traveled.

“He’s got incredible ground strokes and a big serve. His mental strength on the court is now his biggest weapon,” Sofaer says. “Alex is a great guy, very chill, and loves to have a laugh. I always requested him as a roommate, because we would have nonstop laughter.”

Tennis has shaped Sarkissian’s character, imparting important life lessons, like learning to work harder after a loss. A Seaver College economics major, Sarkissian extended that concept to other areas of his life, such as class assignments.

“I knew it was going to be tough going to college and being a student-athlete. You go through a lot and it takes a toll on you,” Sarkissian explains. “I managed to pull through and I’m proud of that.”

To stay in top form, Sarkissian trains six days a week. Each day, he spends three hours on fitness and conditioning training at the gym and four hours playing tennis. He also closely monitors his sleep and diet.

“Tennis is my full-time job,” Sarkissian says. “I’d much rather be out on the court in the sun playing and competing than sitting at a desk all day. Everything I’ve learned about hard work, discipline, how to be professional, and look out for others I’ve learned at Pepperdine,” Sarkissian says. “I’m the same player, but more polished. I’m glad I went through it. I’m off to new territory now.”