Men’s tennis coach Mel Purcell has prepared to be a Racer his whole life.
He began playing tennis 47 years ago when he first moved to Murray. A graduate of Murray High, Purcell went on to University of Memphis and later University of Tennessee where he won two Southeastern Conference championships and a doubles NCAA championship. After his college career he played professionally and won the Association of Tennis Professionals rookie of the year award, climbed as high as 17th on the men’s world tennis ranking and reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 1983.
After his professional career, Purcell followed in his father’s footsteps and returned to Murray to become the elder Purcell’s assistant coach. Mel is now entering his 17th year of serving as head coach.
“I wouldn’t want to coach anywhere else because I grew up here,” Purcell said. “I’m just proud to be a Racer and I love Murray.”
The current team is starting to work out and practice together, will begin tournaments in October and play throughout the spring. Purcell said this is his favorite part of the year.
“My favorite part of the season is when I start getting out on the court with the guys, because I still play a lot to stay in shape,” he said. “I think working with the guys is the fun part. Working out in the mornings for an hour is my favorite because I get a workout for an hour and I just love sharing my knowledge and enjoyment of the game I have to my players.”
Led by lone senior Jose Berardo, this year’s team is young, as it will play five freshmen.
Sophomore Dylan Gerlach said he was excited for the team this year.
“I think the strongest thing about us this year is the fact that we’re starting from scratch,” Gerlach said. “We’ve got a lot of new guys and it’s just a whole different team and a new environment and who knows where we can go or what the overall outcome can be.”
Berardo also said the team has great potential for this season.
“We are all highly motivated,” he said. “I’m the only senior and mostly everyone is new, so that makes everyone on the team want to play and everyone has to compete. That’s going to be our greatest strength.”
Purcell is also excited about his team this season.
“We are always strong both on and off the court,” he said. “When I do my recruiting we always look at good grades. We really stress looking at quality kids because that’s what makes champions and quality players. I’m gonna end up with about 5 freshmen this year, so it’s hard for me to say what our biggest strength will be. I am really excited about them though, I’ll tell you that. I know our senior players will come through and help them out, too.”
The student athletes manage 15 to 20 hours of practice every week, plus conditioning programs while maintaining good grades.
Gerlach said he has a busy schedule.
“Right now I’m taking 21 hours, and have a top five position in my fraternity and I’m playing tennis, so it’s definitely an everyday struggle,” Gerlach said. “But tennis is something that I love, so it’s definitely worth the time and sometimes it stresses me out but it’s always worth it in the end.”
However, these players said they are thankful for the benefits of being on the team, especially Berardo who came to Murray from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
“When I was 16 I realized I wanted to come to the U.S,” he said. “Coach Mel (Purcell) convinced me to come play tennis. I saw this was a great school and I got in touch with some of the other players that were here, Brazilians mostly, and they all told me to come here because it was a great school and a great team.”
He said transitioning has been hard.
“Coming here just as a student, it would have been really hard to make friends, just because of the language barrier,” he said. “Being on the tennis team, with all the Brazilians, people from other countries, it’s easier because we kind of built a family here, with everyone being so far away from home. I’m a senior now and I’m so happy here.”
The players said they believe in the team’s potential this year. The first matches is Oct. 8-9 with the Paducah Sun Invitational, in Paducah, Ky.